Game Review | Abzû
Game Summary: A nameless scuba diver explores the depths of the ocean. (IMDb)
This review may end up sounding a little pretentious, because the quiet nature of Abzû’s gameplay and the sights and sounds it offers end up making you feel a little poetic, especially with the lack of any kind of definitive story.
First off, Abzû is a very short game. It’s also very linear, so - from a gameplay and challenge point of view - there may seem to be very little point to playing it again. However, you don’t really play Abzû, rather you experience it – and it is an incredibly satisfying experience.
Tranquil, yet exhilarating would probably be the best way to describe this game, with a final section that looks like it’s heading towards something bittersweet, but ends up being something else entirely.
As far as the game looks, it may seem relatively simple at first glance, but the art style is actually perfect for the underwater environment and the massive variety of life flourishing within it. Likewise, the audio design is perfect, often drifting away when needed before coming roaring back when you get swept along by the currents.
The controls can be a bit of an issue with the complete freedom of movement underwater, although you should be able to find a control/camera set-up that suits you best. If not, prepare for some headaches as you’ll probably end up losing track of which way is up.
For me, the real triumph of Abzû is the world design. What has happened to this world that requires you to navigate these areas, including ruins and ancient passageways with simple drawings of what are actually highly-advanced androids?
I say ‘this world’ rather than Earth, because apart from the numerous array of fish that you’d find swimming various waters around the world, there is no sign of humanity or any other land animal in this game. Is the whole world like this? Or do we only get to see a small fraction of it?
Then there are the machines that appear with greater frequency as you progress – some are simple mechanisms to open doors and some hum and charge before unleashing a blast of energy to shock you. Then there are the giant constructs that… you should find out what they do on your own.
The truly brilliant thing about all of this is that the game never gives you any answers. You fulfil your character’s goal of restoring various species to the water, but you never find out why you’re doing it or how these creatures were removed in the first place.
My best guess is that this is some far-flung post-post-apocalyptic (not a typo) future where the ice caps are gone, the water level has risen and wiped out most surface life, with humanity – or whatever humans evolved into – leaving behind custodians to repair the mess they made.
Is that the case? I have no idea, but the relaxing nature of this game and the little clues about the world’s history are a perfect combination, allowing your imagination to run wild. And isn’t that what good games should do?
As stated at the start, this is a very short game and that does count a little against it as is it can be beaten in a couple of hours, so you’ll have to judge how much you want to spend for something like that.
Abzû is quite an experience, and although it's not something you’ll probably want to jump into and replay immediately, with so little like it available, you might just end up getting drawn back in at some point down the line to relive the sense of calm optimism this game excels at, something lacking in most media today.