The depths of the ocean still remain one of mankind’s greatest mysteries, the fear of not completely knowing what lurks in the deep. I found myself with a similar sense of mystery when loading up ABZU for the first time – not really knowing what to expect from the underwater exploration game. As soon as the game begins, it’s clear to see what developer Giant Squid’s main focus was, to bring you a beautiful underwater world to explore – a task they have most definitely achieved.
The underwater world of ABZU has to be one of the most beautiful worlds I’ve ever set my eyes on. It’s clear to see that serious love and attention has gone into creating these environments: the way the sun pierces through the rippling waves, rich green vines parting as shoals of fish pass through them, even the deep blue abyss looks welcoming. It’s not only the environments that grab your attention, the sea life is incredibly realistic. Every fish or mammal you come across behaves as you imagine they would: dolphins dart through the water with perfect agility, sharks approach you in an inquisitive manner, manta rays glide with such gracefulness, the ocean feels completely alive. To get up close and personal with the array of species that populate the waters, why not stop for a moment of zen at a meditation stone? At first I thought this to be pointless, however each time I found a new stone I found myself admiring the life that grew within that area.
As you swim deeper into the depths of ABZU there’s an ever growing sense of fear – the moment I swam into the open sea for the first time and saw a monstrous shadow lurking below me, I questioned the direction the story was going – has this just become a survival game? You soon come to realise this game is solely about exploration, although some of the creatures you come across carry a terrifying reputation – thank you, Peter Benchley – there really is nothing to fear. I have to say I really liked this approach, it allowed me to explore this jaw-droppingly beautiful world knowing I didn’t have to keep checking what was behind me.
I know what you’re thinking – so what about the story? Well that’s just it, there really isn’t much of one. As you progress, the message the game is promoting becomes clear (no spoilers here!), it’s a very thought provoking message that had me think it over several time after I had finished the game. It’s not only the story that lacks but general gameplay is pretty sparse – other than hitching a ride on a whale (don’t get me wrong, who doesn’t want to hitch a ride on a whale) and some very basic puzzles, there isn’t much else to do. Although the game play is very minimalist and plot is very vague, I can’t deny I didn’t thoroughly enjoy playing through the game.
I cannot finish this review without mentioning the incredible orchestrated score, I use the word score over soundtrack because as this I felt like I was in a Disney movie. There are moments where your character is swimming in a fast current and the strings of the orchestra build into a compelling crescendo, bringing sense of urgency, or the deep basses add to your sense of mystery as you delve deeper. Enough really can’t be said about the music you hear through your journey, hats off to Giant Squid for taking the orchestrated approach to their score.
ABZU is one of the most unique games I’ve ever played. The art design in truly beautiful and the overwhelming attention to detail you experience time and time again really makes the ocean feel alive. Through the lack of story and game play it may be more fitting to refer to ABZU as an experience; if this is so it’s an experience I really enjoyed, an experience I would recommend you to take.