Ever since I was captivated by the unique and emotional story telling of Journey back in 2012, Abzû naturally appealed to me which promised more of the same but this time in an amazingly beautiful aquatic world teeming with all sorts of different creatures. For this review, as much as I hate to do it, I will naturally compare several things to that of Journey, only because Journey was such a unique experience for me, that I think explaining the strengths and weaknesses of Abzû will be much easier this way.
First off, the thing that jumps out right away are the visuals. The world right from the start is absolutely breath taking. Even in the starting area of the game you are drawn in by the beauty around you, the lush vegetation, schools of pretty little fish, the vast open darkness, everything is just so intriguing here. There are some very impressive moments later on where you are swimming through gigantic schools of fish and swimming along side massive Blue Whales, it’s breath taking to say the least. For anyone remotely interested in sea life, this game is worth trying out. I am personally very fond and blown away by aquatic life that being able to freely swim around with some of my favourites here is a blast. Whale Sharks, Great White Sharks, Dolphins, Orca Whales, you name it!
Another great thing to note is the sound track. It blends in perfectly in the back ground and suits whatever situation you are in, whether you are exploring a vast area, swimming along dark murky water, approaching danger, everything you hear just flows perfectly and transitions are seamless, it just sounds so organic.
Having the visuals and graphics tie in together really helps create a sense of immersion that not only makes you awe-struck, but also makes you feel frightened and cautious when you need to. Everything can be all fine and dandy one minute, but suddenly a Shark appears as you move around a corner, he’s prowling about and the mood changes suddenly and the music reflects this. You are no longer a happy go lucky explorer anymore, and you are now frozen cowering behind a corner waiting until he disappears. Even when he’s gone, you move on very cautiously. On other occasions where you are dashing rapidly through the games many fast paced segments, the music kicks up a bit and gives you a sense of excitement. The mood and emotions are well captured and dictated through simple audio and visual queues, it’s done brilliantly. The game does a great job of not scaring you too much, as a big part of this game is your curiousity and simply not knowing virtually anything about your character and the world you are exploring. When you approach dark murky water that feels endlessly deep, it can be quite creepy to just even swim over it. But even then you are compelled to see what’s down there. Players who take the time to explore such areas will be rewarded with great discoveries, mostly in the form of unique and fascinating sea creatures.
The game controls fairly well. Initially swimming feels smooth and doing maneuvers like loops and quick turns and just wanting to go in any direction feels great at times. I found mostly in the vast open areas is were the controls felt most fluid, when when navigating through tight corridors or enclosed areas where you want to look up was a bit cumbersome. Either way, there is much joy to be had swimming after dolphins and other large animals and grabbing on to them for a ride through the ocean. When you grab onto wildlife, you gain control of them so you are able to do some limited maneuvers with them. If you position yourself right, with or without the aid of the wildlife, you can breach and jump out of water, which is quite fun for just pure amusement. It’s nice reaching checkpoints and taking a break and splashing around the surface.
As you explore, there are items or switches so to speak that I guess unlock creatures in particular areas. For instance, there are shells scattered throughout the ocean floor and activating them unleashes different species every time that you can swim along side. I personally didn’t invest too much time into these as a game like this is not so much about unlockables and is more about pressing forward and the game does a great job of motivating you to just move forward. It’s easy to get lost in a lot of games and explore every nook and cranny and just waste way too much time doing such things.
Another one of Abzû’s strengths as borrowed from it’s predecessor is it’s story telling. It’s easily able to convey the state of the games world and your purpose through interactions with the world and creatures within. Like Journey, murals play a part in the story telling as well. I have a lot of respect for games that are able to convey stories this way without the need of any voice actors or walls of text. It’s a very simple story with a very simple goal, but it’s execution is perfect. I will say though, there is little in the way of surprise for those who have played Journey in terms of this game structure. It follows story telling along the same path and techniques, which I am all for as Journey did it brilliantly. If it ain’t broke, then don’t fix it basically. It can give a sense of the story being a bit underwhelming however. When I played Journey, the way the story was told and the twist and turns encountered were so unique, it was amazingly refreshing to experience that game at that time. In Abzû, to no fault of the game and those who developed it, because it follows more or less the same structure, that feeling didn’t hit me quite the same way it did before, but the more I reflect on my experience in Abzû and I re-watch my gameplay footage, I’m really able to re-collect the fond memories I had with Abzû. For those who have read around online about comparisons like I did, ignore what you read and treat this as a fresh experience, I think most will benefit going into the game with this mindset. Expect Journey, but don’t go into this thinking whether it’s better or not, it’s completely different. All around you can blow through the game in 2-3 hours, I did it in about 3 sittings roughly an hour each.
One of the things that I missed in this game that we got in Journey was the basic co-op play. As basic as it was in Journey, it was very well implemented and lead to some terrifying moments where as I watched my companion get crushed by some monstrosity. I was terrified in this moment and really felt like I lost something when I saw my un-named friend dissappear. Of course he was perfectly fine, but I loved that the game was able to make me feel like that about something that I would relatively not care about in other games. It’s brilliant! Sadly we don’t have any such feature in Abzû. The closet we have are drones that follow your character, but they are quite forgettable and I honestly failed to notice them near the end of the game. This is by no means a game breaker, I just feel given how the games triggers emotions and feelings through very basic techniques, I felt something like the co-op would have just made this flourish even more.
Overall, I highly recommend Abzû for anyone even remotely interested in this style of story telling in a game. With it’s brilliant visuals, engrossing musical score and superb story telling in an immense world, the game brings one of my own real world fantasies to life in an unthinkable way. Even if you are someone who is just fascinated by sea life and oceanic worlds, Abzû gives players intimate encounters with some of the oceans greats. Considering this game at full price is only $20 and on sale it can be had for $10, you simply can’t go wrong with this one. This game is truly magical and should not be missed.
You can check it my full playthrough on our youtube channel, link to the video and channel are below. Do note there is a pretty funny bug I encountered in the end segment.