We experienced Giant Squid's adventure under the sea.
There is something truly magical about marine life. It's so alien, yet it's something we can all relate to. If you've ever been lucky enough to snorkle or dive in places where there is plenty of life you'll know what we're talking about. Abzû recreates that experience and it does so brilliantly. Using simple shapes more than a hundred species of marine life have been recreated in great numbers to populate the areas you explore in Abzû.
There are turtles, dolphins, sharks, whales, squids and massive schools of smaller fish. All of them beautifully recreated, and all of them moving in a way that comes across and organic and lifelike. You can catch a ride with some of the bigger ones and you can interact with them by sending out a beacon, which allows you to swim along with them and even jump into the air with some of them as you swim along for the ride. The first time you paddle past a sea anemone that retracts its arms will no doubt make you smile. It looks gorgeous, particularly in motion, and there is something soothing about the whole experience. It's the sort of game you'll want to show off to everyone you know, regardless of age and gaming prowess. There are even special spots where you can sit and "meditate" allowing you to follow the behaviours of the various animals in that particular area without having to control the Diver. It's a neat touch, and we spent more time than we expected in this mode.
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It is difficult to review this game without mentioning some of the games that Matt Nava, the creative director of Abzû, has been involved with. Influences from both Flower and Journey can be spotted here, and not just in the art (Nava was art director on both of those titles), but there's also something about the pacing and mechanics that reminds us of those games, particularly of Flower. There is a similar structure where you're always clearly presented with what you need to do next in order to progress, but off to the sides there are secrets to unlock and sights to see. Even more so here than in Flower.
Progressing is mainly down to solving some fairly simple and straight forward puzzles. Finding a little drone to help you unlock a passage or interacting with a couple of objects to unlock a gate. For some this may be a negative. There isn't much of a challenge in progressing, but it really isn't that sort of game either. You're never frustrated and instead your free to interpret your surroundings, take in the views, and explore secrets.
The music composed by Austin Wintory (Journey, Assassin's Creed: Syndicate) does a great job of setting the mood. It may be orchestral, but it's never overpowering and goes really well with the underwater setting.
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We feel the need to dedicate some words in this review for the controls, as while it may seem very straight forward, clearly a lot of work has gone into making it feel just right, as you're able to perform loops moving both towards and away from the camera. You can choose to invert both controls and camera independently, and even though we tend to play every game normally we actually wound up feeling more comfortable playing this with inverted controls (while setting the camera to normal). Inverted is the default here. You propel yourself forward by pressing the right trigger and you're able to use a few strong leg kicks to gain speed by pressing X.
There's a story element here as well, and it's told in a way that will let you interpret what happens. At the core of it is your relationship with the Great White Shark, but it also tells the story of who you as the Diver are, and in a greater sense it's about ourselves and our relationship to nature and the oceans. It's a narrative that can be enjoyed in these sort of broad strokes, but there are plenty of things to interpret and decipher for those seeking more definite answers. The Egypt-inspired wall paintings are a nice touch in this respect as it allows the player to take as much or as little time as he or she wants to digest the backstory. There are some truly great moments here that you'll want to experience yourself without us spoiling anything.
One neat thing that facilitates returning to Abzû is the fact that you can jump between the different chapters after finishing the game, and you can also go straight into one of the dozen or so meditation spots (you'll have to unlock through playing regularly though). Perfect for showing your favourite areas off, because as we already stated, this is a game you'll boot up to show people, gamers and non-gamers alike.
As you might have expected Abzû doesn't take very long to explore from start to finish, but beating this game in a couple of hours won't let you explore all there is here. We took a little more time to investigate our surroundings and tried to unlock the various creatures in all of the areas (you do this by interacting with shell formations you come across). It's that sort of experience, and if you enjoyed Flower and Journey you should do yourself a favour and dive into Abzû. It's a beautiful adventure from start to finish.
9 / 10
Absolutely stunningly beautiful, Strong narrative through simple means, Amazing work recreating the marine life, A game you'll want to show and share with your friends, Score does a great job setting the mood.