Over the last couple of days, I’ve been recovering from a surgery. While not specifically life threatening, I was looking forward to something that would help me recover in a serene, welcoming game. While I love games, this sadly doesn’t occur too much. I won’t get emotional closure after finishing a couple of rounds in the latest FPS, or pummeling through side-quests in the newest RPG.
One of the games that did break this rhythm for me was Journey. It was my game of the year back when it released, and when I found out that it would be their last exclusive title for Playstation consoles, I was disappointed. The company might have to go through a series of hurdles in order to get development moving again. Sony later signed Giant Sparrow to fill their place, but it hasn’t felt the same, especially since their titles haven’t graced the same niche I’m looking for. (No offense to the devs!)
Because of this, another Journey-like project was at the top of my anticipated list coming into 2013, and I had to wait another year until I learned it would become a reality. Titled ABZÛ, it was an underwater adventure game with discovery elements similar to Endless Ocean, while still retaining the characteristics that made Journey great in the first place. And after a patient two year wait, it’s finally been released. What a better time to dive into a world like this.
You’ll know that ABZÛ is a minimalist game from the title screen, but this is also present in the control scheme. You can boost yourself, interact with objects, and of course swim. Thankfully, the game quickly sets in the notion that you don’t need to rush through this beautiful world. There’s a bit of time between each boost, and even though it’s a mechanic you don’t use unless placed in the most dire situations, this is a successful sign by the developers on how to appreciate the world more subtly.
When you aren’t learning new movements or making new companions, ABZÛ settles for a heavy sense of exploration. The game does identify which creatures you’ve spotted and which you haven’t, but there’s always a sense of something being different where-ever you go. This is mostly done in between the game’s heavier sequences, such as puzzles or story beats.
Story & Design:
The third and final aspect ofABZÛ’s gameplay is its puzzles. These are very basic, and even more so during the earlier sections, but it’s refreshing to see how the game doesn’t focus on these high marks of challenge. There’s even a feature to meditate, proving just how far the developers went to make a serene, and not baffling journey.
The story sections in ABZÛ seem minimal at first, but actually develop substance slowly in order to accomplish some pretty devastating and impacting moments. Thankfully, the pacing is done so these come when you least expect them to, introducing shock in ways you couldn’t have seen coming. It’s great to see this perfected, especially since it could have changed the quality if otherwise done poorly.
Presentation/ Visuals & Audio:
In terms of graphical content, ABZÛ is nothing more than a spectacle. It’s absolutely breathtaking how such a small team has been able to make the underwater setting always feel exhilarating without fail and I think it will build some respect for players who don’t pay attention to what’s currently happening to our oceans. There’s also some environmental changes present in between sections that look absolutely gorgeous too.
Technically, ABZÛ is a bit of a different story. I did experience some frame drops while swimming with the more massive crowds of fish (although the rendering size of the game is nonetheless impressive) and camera issues came in the way every once in a while, as the physics of the game always push you up. It’s also a somewhat short experience, and not something I would immediately go back to again, but that doesn’t undermine what I still experienced.
On the surface, ABZÛ is a simple game, but there’s an incredible amount of polish, detail, and artistic integrity at hand. The game is beautiful without sacrificing any of its main components, which makes the whole experience better as a whole. There are a couple technical stumbles, but the overall product is nevertheless exceeding.
ABZÛ gets a 9/10 (Masterpiece)
We’d like to thank 505 Games and Giant Squid for giving us a code!
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