One of the best things about video games is that there are so many different titles to choose from to fit your mood. Sometimes you want to shoot dozens of enemies on screen and channel your inner John Rambo. Other times, you’ll want a game that gives you a story on par with what you’ll find when you go to the movies. Occasionally though, you just want a game to help you relax. Abzû definitely falls into this final category.
Abzû is the first game to release from the newly founded Giant Squid Studios. The studio was started by Matt Nava who had before been the art director on both Flower and Journey. While Flower explores the grasslands and Journey mainly explores the desert, your time in Abzû is spent exploring the depths of the ocean.
You begin Abzû floating above the water as an unnamed diver. After the game teaches you the initial controls, you dive down into the sea to begin your expedition. The story of Abzû is very similar to that of Journey wherein you don’t know exactly what your end goal is. There isn’t a firm narrative throughout Abzû, but the game definitely provides hints and small pieces of info here and there to help you figure out what it is you’re doing. In some ways, the story is very much left up to the interpretation of the player.
While I can appreciate a narrative that allows the player to decide for themselves what they think it means, sometimes I do enjoy being told what is happening. After finishing Abzû, I honestly had no idea what my goal was throughout the course of the game. What is my motivation? Why is my character traversing this world? While it’s okay for a story to be abstract, I would’ve at least appreciated the slightest bit of exposition to help me understand what my character’s goals were.
My favorite thing about Abzû is easily the visuals and art design. Giant Squid Studios has created a beautiful world for you to get lost in and I particularly love the bright colors that are found in the game’s palette. It was so refreshing to dive into such a vibrant world in an age where most video games try too hard to be dark and gritty. Everything from the seaweed to the clownfish popped right off of the screen and aided to the feel of underwater immersion.
Also helping with this immersion was the immaculate score composed by Austin Wintory. If that name sounds familiar to you, then you may remember Wintory from his previous work on Journey, of which he was nominated for a Grammy award. I’m happy to say that Wintory is once again in top form and delivers a soundtrack that is nearly on par with his Grammy nominated work. The sense of wonder and charm that is found in the score to Abzû, is unparalleled. Wintory is absolutely one of the best composers that we currently have in the video game industry.
Abzû truly shines in these moments where the music is perfectly accompanying what you are witnessing on screen. There’s a particular scene that comes to mind towards the middle of the game when your diver runs into a school of whales. You then begin swimming alongside these whales as they descend towards the ocean’s floor. There’s nothing significant about this moment in the game, but it just shows how beautiful Abzû is when it’s fantastic visuals and music work in tandem. These are the moments that stood out to me after I finished my playthrough.
One of my main concerns coming into Abzû was that the game would suffer from poor controls. Video games with underwater levels or worlds are notorious for having dreadful controls. Luckily, I found that your character in Abzû is incredibly easy to move around.It was incredibly important to me that the controls to Azbû were simple and intuitive because, much like Journey, traversing the environment is the main thing you do in this game. There is no combat to be found in this game and essentially the only thing you can do with your character is swim. While it never felt perfect and I sometimes did fight with which way I wanted my character to move, for the most part, I found the controls to be simplistic.
Another thing I enjoyed about Abzû was the meditation statues that are found throughout the game’s many levels. These statues allow you to observe the fish and other various sea critters that are swimming around you in the world. You’re allowed to pan the camera between different schools of sea life and watch them as they interact with the environment around them. This mechanic really doesn’t add anything to the main game but for some reason I found it to be oddly relaxing.
My main piece of criticism with Abzû is that it is just a little bit too similar to Journey. As I played through the game, I started experiencing some serious déjà vu. Each game follows an extremely similar pattern where you explore a small location, figure out the relatively easy puzzle in that area before then being funneled into the next section. You do this five or six times and then you reach the conclusion of the game. I do understand that some of the people who helped make Journey also helped make Abzû, but I thought their similarities were just a little too pronounced. Giant Squid Studios could’ve done more to differentiate between the two games besides the obvious aesthetics and locales in which each game take place. I felt like I knew what to expect with Abzu before I had even reached the conclusion of the game simply because I had previously played Journey. Again though, this isn’t necessarily the worst thing ever since Journey is one of the best video games of the last decade.
With some of the most gorgeous visuals seen in this generation of consoles and another excellent score by Austin Wintory, Abzû is a true winner. Being their first game as a development studio, Giant Squid Studios has knocked it out of the park. If you were a fan of Journey then you will definitely have a great time with Abzû. I highly recommend you take the plunge into this beautiful, underwater world for yourself.