The smelt and the sprat, they know where it’s at
From the opening moments of Giant Squid’s exploratory underwater adventure, it’s clear this game is meant to be an atmospheric, solitary journey.
With this in mind, it’s tempting to label Abzû an experience rather than a game in the traditional sense. Of course, given the fact that the team behind Abzû is comprised of several developers who brought the multiaward-winning Journey to life, this makes perfect sense. Rather than a game of interweaving characters, storylines, twists and turns, Abzû’s magic can be found in its simplicity It’s a gorgeous “swim-ulator” that you certainly need more than a few free hours to devote to, because once you dive into it, you’ll take quite some time getting back to surface.
From your first dive, gasps will be plentiful and audible as you take in your surroundings. It’s a beautiful sensory experience that brings to mind the thrill of free diving, and the sense of weightlessness you might experience when submerging your entire IRL body underwater. The opening moments give way to a pulsating, seemingly endless abyss of water that stretches out before you. There’s a subtle feeling of grandeur, like you’re one small drop in the ocean of the universe. You’re a lone diver in what’s essentially an aquatic jungle, surrounded by the rainbow of life below the water.
Yes, yes, but what do you actually do, besides gawp? Well you bob and weave through the waters exploring the depths at your leisure. Rather than feeling like a slog as it might in most other games, here swimming or navigating water in any capacity feels like an absolute treat. Your diver is responsive, and brought to life via flowing, fluid animation. It’s actually enjoyable to descend into a patch of coral to appreciate its allure or to cruise lightly amongst a school of fish, discovering their different names by swimming up and touching them. There are some areas you’re initially roped off from, with coral occasionally blocking your way. This breaks the illusion of the limitless ocean ripe for exploring, especially frustrating when you find yourself funnelled into a linear progression towards a solid end.
That only slightly mars the experience, however. Your true purpose is to uncover the narrative unfolding around you. If the mere mention of ‘abstract concepts’ or ‘passive storytelling’ turns you cold, then you’ll need a hot Thermos for this next bit: you’ll only get out what of Abzû what you’re prepared to put in.
While exploring, you’ll get hands-on access to the various aquatic animals of the sea while exploring ruins, oceanic areas of the deep, coral reefs, caverns and other hot spots you’d expect to see on nature documentaries. It’s all in a bid to discover both the peaceful and predatory behaviours of the creatures of the ocean. It’s all before you, but largely up to you to interpret.