It is a sad truth that when we first encounter an object or lifeform in games our first impulse is to attack. It's not really surprising, most games use conflict as the core motivator for progression. Games can offer players so much more than destruction and conflict. This is why when titles like ABZU come along they make a refreshing change to the norm and act as a gaming palate cleanser.
ABZU is the first game from developer Giant Squid but don't let that put you off as there is some remarkable talent behind the curtain, notably Matt Nava who was the lead artist on the wildly successful Journey. That's right, if you have already seen this game running the similarities between these two titles is no coincidence. So let us dive in (I've told worse) and take a look.
Like with Journey, there is no preamble or narrator setting the scene, the game introduction starts with your view being taken below the waves, down through all the layers of the ocean, darker and deeper until all light is gone. As someone who is terrified of deep water, even this opening sequence sent a shiver down my spine, a feeling I often get while playing Subnautica. In the next scene, you see your character floating just below the surface of a light blue seascape, he/she wakes and your journey begins.
The controls are basic and within minutes you will know everything you need to navigate this underwater world. You start slow, gliding through the ocean with unnatural ease and grace: then as you learn to boost with the correct timing you dart forward with a burst of speed. If you hit the surface with a good amount of momentum you will breach its dancing surface and arc through the air before diving back down under the waves in a shot of bubbles. In no time you start to see fish of all kinds from small schools that move as one to larger fish that cruise through the water with iceberg like confidence. As you encounter these larger creatures you soon discover that you can actually latch onto them and even have a limit degree of control. The first time I breached the surface with a Mantaray was just sublime and this wasn't the last time I would say 'wow' out loud while playing this game.
So let's just state the obvious, this game is absolutely stunning but not because of amazing texture work or ultra realistic facial captures. The element that underpins this beauty is movement, not just the fish or main character but also how it all meshes together in a singular visual crescendo of colour and light. When you or a creature swims into a kelp forest, strands of vegetation shift in its wake, sand kicks up from the ocean floor and schools of fish mimic your arcs in the water. Light is also used expertly throughout, sometimes with dazzling sunshine reaching into the pastel blue shallows and other times light is little more than a backdrop of moody greys. The developers have also used light and colour as an informal way of guiding players through the various locations of the game, a hard feat to master in itself and yet here it feels natural and relaxed.
The game is not taxing and asks very little of the player in the way of puzzles, but then I suspect spending hours swimming between levers and switches would have ruined the pace. There are some collectables to be sought out but again you are never locked down to anything, the path is in front of you and all you must do is follow it.
The music, oh my lord does this game nail the music. It's a very rare thing to feel like the game world, the player and the orchestral score are all moving as one entity and yet this game does that effortlessly. There are times when the view will open up over an impressive drop-off or rock formation and the music knows exactly when to pick up the pace and bathe you in an explosion of sound.
There are a few small touches that I think could have been included that would have enhanced the feeling of connection with the ocean. Like when your character gets near rocks or walls I would have loved to see him use his/her arms to avoid a collision or feel his way across a surface in the darkness. There are a few graphical glitches here and there like where smaller fish swam through some of the larger creatures for example: but these really are minor issues and do not detract from the overall experience.
While playing ABZU a friend asked me if it was any good and in my feeble attempt to sell it in a few sentences I'd highlighted that there is no combat, not much to actually interact with and it only lasted four hours. Sometimes it's nearly impossible to get across how good a game is just by bullet points or a features list because it really is more than a sum of its parts.
As always I only write none spoiler reviews and so where the game takes you I will not say, but regardless of how you play this game it is on a linear path and even taking my time I clocked in at four hours from start to finish. If you are looking for a game that will take you months to best then this is most certainly is not that game but I would just say this: these days we really are spoilt for choice with many titles on offer for every conceivable type of genre I could mention. If I want to play a vast open world RPG I'll install The Witcher 3, if I fancy a few hours of survival co-op with my friends I most certainly will boot up Don't Starve Together. However, if I want a three or four hours of swimming through one of the most gorgeous underwater environments I've ever seen in a game: from now on I'll be dropping into ABZU.
Thank you for reading my review for ABZU on the PC, if you like my work please follow me @riggedforepic or you can contact me at Riggedforepic@gmail.com