I've always been a sucker for cool, art heavy adventure games in the indie space; Journey, Everybody's Gone to the Rapture, Hohokum...if a game has a cool art style, and is selling itself on the premise that it is going to give me a different experience, I am definitely one to check it out.
Abzû, by Giant Squid Studios (and with a production team by some of the fine folks who worked on Journey) was sold to me as a "beautiful, zen, one-sitting adventure), however, some of the gaming influencers I follow (for they have similar tastes to me) were fairly mixed on the experience, so I hesitated...that is until it popped up as a PS Plus game in May. Now, obviously I was still neck-deep in Persona 5...but I have now finally sat down with it, and felt like throwing my two cents into the ocean in case you, like me, downloaded it with the intention of playing it later, or are thinking about jumping in.
First of all, if you don't know anything about Abzû, check out the trailer:
In the game, you play as an unnamed Diver who awakens floating in the middle of the ocean, and the "plot" (wordlessly) unfolds as she is guided through an ocean in peril by a Great White Shark to wells that you can empower to revitalize the oceans. Through the journey, you swim through the ruins of a lost civilization who had a great connection to the ocean, and through murals, get a greater sense of the story, which draws from Sumerian Mythology and the Cosmic Ocean Myth.
Frankly, I really like this style of environmental storytelling, and I loved the concept behind exploring behind these ruins and actually getting a greater sense of what was going on through looking at art; my history degree, art-history option brain had a great time...though I do with there was a stronger feeling thread through the gameplay. Invariably, Abzû is going to get compared to Journey, and that is unfortunate; the Diver's voyage through the sea just does not have the same strong, emotional thread. The connection (for me) was just not there...I was actually playing the game late one night as a break from another game (to be potentially written about later), and looked at the time (it was a bit after one am) and thought to myself "if I put this down, I don't think I'll come back to it, but I'd like to see it through".
I did, and I'm quite happy I did, because despite the lack of connection, or feeling like I just *had* to keep playing, I had a really enjoyable 2 hour experience.
The art style, and sound design of Abzû are absolutely beautiful; you can see the art in the trailer, but the sound it's...I cannot even begin to express how perfect it was for a serene, underwater experience. This was helped a great deal by a few little pieces in the game that were nice touches; I particularly enjoyed finding meditative statues, where Diver basically just zoned out, and I got to watch the sea creatures (occasionally get eaten). I also don't want to spoil anything for you, should you be wanting to play it (and unless you cannot tell, I think you should if any of this sounds interesting to you), but when you see a big school of fish...go.
Just go there.
And spend some time with them. It's...I think one of my favorite moments in a game this year.
I think Abzû is a game that anyone who enjoys zen games, or adventure games that tell a subtle story should give a look to, but if you're looking for the next Journey, this is not it; but in it's on right, if you can separate and enjoy Abzû for everything that it is: beautiful, serene, clever (I love the mural storytelling, if you can't tell yet), then give it a shot.