When I was first thrown into the deep blue of Abzu, I expected to play through another hour-long indie game with an obscure story; the type of game that the past couple years have been well known for, but I experienced so much more. Abzu is a beautiful vast ocean teeming with aquatic wildlife and ancient ruins just waiting to be explored, but it’s the meaningful story that caught me off guard and reeled me in.
Abzu begins with the playable character, a mysterious diver, awakening in the middle of the ocean with no sense of direction other than some interesting landmarks and fish in the distance that grab your attention and pull you towards them. Within these opening minutes, I was reminded of a highly acclaimed game, Journey. It’s not hard to compare Journey and Abzu, as both games share the same art director and composer. So naturally, both games contain many similarities when it comes to the art direction and the emotional vibes you get from their beautiful soundtracks, but they both branch in a different direction when it comes to the underlying message beneath them. With Journey, it was all about the path you travel in life and the people you meet along the way, whereas Abzu is more about the path we leave behind and how it affects the future.
While Journey’s message was a little more abstract and harder to pick up on, Abzu’s message is very clear and noticeable throughout the game. The way it presents itself is much more upfront, and even if you never fully understand the bigger picture, it’s not hard to interpret the game’s’ vision and true meaning.
Early into the game I encountered an incident with a shark that left me terrified in the same way most media containing sharks does. It gave me a feeling that I needed to watch my back, and that this shark was my enemy and could strike at any moment, but that was simply not the case. This shark was not just another killing machine that most media makes them out to be. That incident is your first clue of context into where the story is leading you, and who the real enemy is.
Abzu is broken into several segments with each one of them focusing on a clear emotion, which is not just represented by the story but also reflected on by the color of your surroundings and musical score as the mood in each section changes. It’s all represented in such a masterful way that you could very easily take it all for granted or even overlook it entirely if you don’t stop to look around and soak it all in.
While traversing the depths of the ocean you will come across many species of fish and underwater life. It’s amazing how natural each species exists and interacts with one another. Smaller fish will move in schools and scatter about as the bigger fish prey on them while dolphins and other underwater mammals spring out of the water now and again. What’s even more amazing is that you can communicate with underwater life by sending out sound waves, which sometimes lets you enter into a school of fish, moving in patterns to become one of them, and one with the ocean. The game also lets you meditate in certain spots, which lets you jump to any species in the surrounding area and observe them in their natural habitat.
The environments these fish accompany are all remarkable as well. From seaweed infested waters, to ancient underwater ruins full of intrigue and man made mysteries, each area is begging to be explored. Every new terrain is an exciting encounter, as you never know what you may find around each corner of their beautiful depths.
Throughout the game, you will come across some light puzzle solving, but none of it ever becomes a challenge, nor is it intended to be. Many of the puzzles can be solved with a quick pull of a couple levers, which are placed around nooks and crannies of the map in order to get you to look in areas you may not have otherwise, and discover new sea life, as well as ancient underwater hieroglyphs which give you a glimpse of the past.
In an era where many of the indie games are glimpses of an unfulfilled story that lead to a vague ending, it’s nice to see a developer that isn’t afraid to put their own thought provoking messages into a game rather than have you fill in the blanks. Abzu is a breathtaking adventure that will leave you in awe from taking in all of its surroundings, atmosphere, and one of the most beautiful soundtracks to ever accompany a video game. Abzu is a real whale of a tale!
+ Meaningful message and story
+ One of the best video game soundtracks EVER
+ A shark that isn’t the villain
+ Interacting with beautiful creatures of the deep
Abzu is simply one of the best titles on the PS4, and if you are a fan of Journey, then this is one adventure you won’t want to miss out on.