Giant Squid is a game development studio located in Santa Monica, CA, and they are the lean, mean developing machine, which has cooked up the stunning underwater beaut, Abzû. This is by no means your traditional game that we see these days, and that happens to be one of the reasons why it is such a wonderful breath of fresh air.
Abzû is the most beautiful game I’ve seen this year, and its beauty can found within the unique art style and remarkable ocean simulation. The technical aspects of the behaviors of the game’s fish are outstanding, and all of this makes for some astounding visuals on screen.
In Abzû, gamers assume the role of a nameless diver who essentially is one with the underwater environment. More simply put, she doesn’t need oxygen to breath underwater. The Diver can speak to the fish around her and create some mesmerizing snippets of gameplay.
The game is about discovering secrets, fish, drones, and learning about what has happened to this ocean over time. There is indeed a force that players will confront, but I won’t say anything else so I don’t spoil anything for you.
Gaming narratives are often times told in a straightforward manner, and gamers usually can grasp the message a story is trying to tell. In Abzû, convention is nowhere near the plot of this game, and that leaves quite a bit up to the player to wonder about. I thoroughly enjoyed reading into the hieroglyphs painted on deep-sea walls or the palace-like locations I visited throughout my play session.
After playing this game for not too long, you will quickly realize the Diver’s purpose, what she is trying to do to the ocean, and to its sea life. The ending to Abzû presented a glorious and touching finish to a journey that shouldn’t take you more than three or four hours to complete.
There are eight chapters in Abzû and they feature unique and contrasting areas, with a diverse color palate that will surprise you until the end. Each environment has unique fish, and within the swaying seaweed and dusty sea floor are intriguing secrets to uncover.
The control scheme is rather simple, as PS4 gamers will press and hold down on the “R2” button in order to swim throughout the environment, while “X” serves as a boost for when you really want to show off your swimming skills. “Square” is used for interacting with various hotspots around the environment, and pressing the “Touch Pad” triggers the game’s meditation mechanic when at the appropriate location.
A few events will occur in the game when players swim side-by-side with a massive whale or are startled by the sudden appearance of a shark, who then snatches away your companion drone and chews it to pieces. These moments demonstrate the massive size of these creatures and how excellent of a job Giant Squid did in bringing these animals to life.
Meditating is an interesting feature for players, as it allows them to take a break from swimming around as the Diver, and assume the role of the various fish all around them. While in Meditation mode, gamers can switch from fish species to fish species and observe the sea life on the fly. It’s a nifty little experience for those who really want to soak in the sea.
I must say that some of the most incredible moments I experienced were when I was able to attract several schools of fish to me and then race around one of the game’s many open environments. It was a joy to see the screen fill up with small and big, red and yellow fish. How I chose to interact with Abzû’s world helped make the experience more personal to me. If you’re in a hurry though, you can blaze through the game and probably finish it within a few hours or even less time than that, however, I’d recommend swimming around and seeing what you can find.
Early on in Abzû, players will find these small drones buried throughout the environment and they will help you get passed certain barriers or obstacles. These little guys are featured in around half of the game’s length and are fun to see how they interact with the Diver.
Life is all over Abzû, but the sequences that I remember most are the ones when massive groups of fish came together in a circle and then I could swim through or with them. It was amazing how the creatures consumed the screen and left me with an overwhelmed, yet entertained feel to it.
Okay, so this last part is going to get confusing, but stay with me. With Abzû being an underwater game, there are a few areas of the world when the Diver exits the water (yes, while still being underwater), and walks from one point to the next. Other aspects of the game (which are still underwater) possess empty river banks where I would then complete an objective and then a light blue, beautiful water would begin to fill up the banks. It was a weird but very fascinating occurrence, and I can appreciate the dichotomy of the idea of water running underwater.
Abzû is a game that’s about exploration and taking in the environments around you. There are no gargantuan cutscenes, sinister plots, or even that evil of characters. It’s a game with a heartfelt story to tell, and a magnificent world to tell it with. Abzû is available today on PS4 and PC. 505 Games provided We Write Things with a PS4 code of Abzu for the purposes of this review.