ABZÛ is a brand new indie experience from developer Giant Squid Studios. The game was directed by Matt Nava, who was also the art director for the critical hit Journey. It is clear from playing the game that he has carried over his experience from his work on Journey to create a beautiful game that appears to be a breath of fresh air in the current gaming industry.
Originally announced in 2014, the game was praised for its incredible artistic visuals that revoked the same feelings of Journey, but this time the focus was on underwater exploration unlike the deserts of Journey. The idea sounded really interesting on paper but is the execution as good as it sounded?
The gameplay in ABZÛ is fairly simple and revolves around exploring the ocean. It is more about enjoying the sights and sounds which means the gameplay interaction is minimal at best. The art style truly shines during the exploration resulting in some breathtaking views of the Ocean and the creatures inside it.
ABZÛ is reminiscent of games like Endless Ocean where the player is exploring the depths of the Ocean while also interacting with the wild life inside it. The interaction between the creatures doesn’t really act well as a gameplay mechanic. Aside from being able to see their names and discover new creatures, players can also try to grab them to swim and explore underwater.
While the journey that the player experiences in ABZÛ touches on a spiritual level, it often feels weakly executed compared to Journey. Since there is no multiplayer in ABZÛ, there is no sense of companionship and the result is that the player will remain isolated during their whole adventure.
ABZÛ features a linear gameplay design that revolves around going from point A to point B, but despite that there are secrets hidden throughout each of the game’s levels. These levels are often set in the various parts of the Ocean like caverns, coral reefs and ruins, and they focus on visual spectacle more than on meaningful gameplay, which might disappoint the people who were hoping for a more interactive journey through the depths of Ocean.
There are moments of sheer brilliance in the world of ABZÛ when the art style truly shines, but they do lose their significance if viewed the second time. In this way, ABZÛ loses some of its replay value because unlike Journey, there is no multiplayer to provide a different experience each time.
Aside from the visuals being the highlight of the game, the soundtrack truly shines with the work of composer Austin Wintory. You might already be familiar with him, since he too has worked on Journey. The music that he has composed for ABZÛ leaves a soothing feeling throughout the experience. ABZÛ is essentially a game that is meant to be enjoyed in peace.
The story in ABZÛ is deliberately kept vague and open to your interpretation. It slowly begins to reveal itself as we explore more of the game. The narrative seems to be inspired from Journey, which took similar approach with its story, putting it in the hands of the player.
On the whole, ABZÛ is predominantly an experience more so than it is a game. It’s an underwater ride, and you’re there to admire the surreal beauty hidden deep in the depths of the sea. The jetstream sections are a testament to this, as the game is most memorable when it takes control away from the player and simply lets them soak in the wonderful art. That said, it’s an experience not worth missing out on, even though you aren’t likely to revisit it.
ABZÛ was developed by Giant Squid Studios and published by 505 Games. The game is available for the PS4 and PC. This review covers the PS4 version of the game.
ABZÛ is more of an experience than it is a video game, but it is something that should not be missed. If you have enjoyed games like Journey and Flower, you will also enjoy your time with ABZÛ.