Here I am sitting staring at the blinking cursor, thinking how I can start my review on Abzu. I don’t think any review how long or short can do this game any justice, but I am going to try and put it down in so many words and pictures. If I had to describe the game in a single sentence, what would I say? The closest comparison I can come close to is that it is a combination of Endless Ocean and Journey, which is a pretty obvious comparison in itself since the art director of Journey Matt Nava’s new studio Giant Squid is responsible for Abzu. Basically exchanging the sand of Journey for the blue watery depths of Abzu, it might not reach the same masterpiece levels that Journey reached. But it is still one of the most beautifully crafted games available today.
This game was a pure impulse buy for me, I did not read any reviews or watch any of the trailers, the only thing I used as a barometer for purchasing this game was because it was created by the same art director that work on Journey. As I previously mentioned Abzu comes from Giant Squid, a developer founded by Journey and Flower’s art director, Matt Nava. And you might ask does it feel like Journey? Yes, it does it actually feels a lot like Journey, not in a bad way, it just does and that in itself is not a bad thing. If there is every an argument to be had that video games aren’t art, then Abzu is the game that would stand against that argument. The game is visually perfect; every area is unique and it feels like you are swimming through the canvas of an oil painting.
Abzu just like Journey is not so much about the story or it’s characters, but rather it is about the sights and sounds and journey and it’s final destination. There are no clear-cut story or narrative in Abzu. It is not spoon fed to you as the player, instead, you must piece it together via the murals and cave art you find along the way. And that is the central theme of Abzu. It is about discovery, learning what tales the sea has to tell and experience the underwater world while exploring and finding your way around the stunning scenery. And yes I am being deliberately vague about the story details of Abzu, as I truly believe that you will enjoy the game far more if you go into it without knowing anything about it, as I have.
Abzu is basically for all intents and purposes a swimming simulator that allows you swim through a beautiful ocean, meeting a wide range of colorful and extremely distinctive fish along the way, not to mention whales and other underwater mammals. The game’s mechanics is extremely simple. You cannot die for one and there is no upgrade system, no combat, and no inventory system. Ordinarily, this would not work in any other game, but Abzu’s simplicity is also its strong suit. You don’t need to worry about any of the above freeing up plenty of time for you to enjoy the sights and sounds the game provide you with. On the subject of controls. Abzu has some of the most satisfying swimming controls I have had the pleasure of experiencing. Swimming feels simple, seamless and handles amazingly well.
And once you master these controls, exploring the environments of Abzu feels incredibly satisfying. The music and sound affects in Abzu needs to be mentioned! If you have a high-quality headset or sound system hooked up to your Playstation 4 use it! Austin Wintory is hands down one of the finest musical composers in the video game industry today. His musical score for Abzu is just as memorable as his work that he did on Journey and The Banner Saga. There is no way I can put into words how the musical score compliments the world of Abzu, all I can say is that the orchestral pieces were goosebump-inducing and perfectly matched the pacing of the game. Although they are extremely short between one and two minutes which is a real shame.
Abzu is an artistic triumph in every single way. In most of the different areas in the game, you can rest on a particular rock and meditate. And I found myself just sitting on these rocks and switching between the different views and the different species of fish and watching how they move and interact with each other. And I found this to be oddly relaxing, almost like I was watching a David Attenborough documentary. The only thing I can fault Abzu for is the length of the game, which if you take it slowly and get all the trophies is a 4-6 hour experience. But in my personal opinion, I would rather have a short amazing experience than a long drawn out mediocre one. If you haven’t played any of Matt Nava’s game before I highly recommend you pick up Abzu and then Journey.