Ab zÛ

The smelt and the sprat, they know where it’s at

XBox: The Official Magazine - - START - Brit­tany Vin­cent

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.

Ocean drive

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.

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