It's not too often that a game like Abzû comes along that allows you the opportunity to just play a game but to also sit, breathe and relax. It is an absolute pleasure to have the time to drink in the colour and calming watery effects of the ocean. Especially if you live so far away from a place to do that easily.
When I placed my headphones on I was greeted with recognisable shoreline sounds and cues from light string instruments. I was dropped into the sea immediately and left in a pale blue and clear sandy area to learn how to swim. The visual cues were gladly minimal and the tutorial was quick to finish. I was surprised to have found the swimming mechanic almost instantly understandable. Unlike in many games it felt fluid and natural and I only found myself fighting the controls when I had got far too close to the wall, so couldn't see myself properly.
I was led into a green area by a large fish that I held onto. This was also very simple, needing only to hold a single button cling to it. This is a total choice from here though there are MANY creatures to do so with. In this area I became more aware of my surroundings and the controls as I swam alongside much smaller schools of fish, varying in shape and colour. These creatures are all actual fish from our own world, some very recognisable, some less so. They are represented well by the striking art style, with basic shapes, simplistic shading and popping colours. Even when they are on the duller side.
But Abzû has plenty to discover other than different species of fish. Upon further inspection I came across little underwater drones which helped me through blocked areas – usually similar to coral – that they would break away with lasers. There were also little glowing Nautilus shells to collect as I continued onwards, occasionally coming across murals that would indicate how many I had found. The nicest of the discoveries though, was a statue in each new beautiful area where you could sit and "Meditate". This would then change the view to the nearby fish, allowing you to be able to listen to the stunning soundtrack composed by Austin Wintory and watch a different school swim by.
The soundtrack itself is mesmerising, everywhere I went the music suited each situation ranging from airy and joyous to oppressively bleak. It always felt like it transitioned naturally between scenes and even managed to match the occasional surprises perfectly. And as if that wasn't enough to enjoy, the actual sound effects are extremely welcome and equally natural. I played wearing my Sony Gold Wireless headphones and I can confirm that directional sound was definitely on point. I could hear a school of Tang rush past behind me and figure out roughly whether they were. I did however find the sounds of the ocean to sometimes be a tiny bit too loud but I feel like this is a small gripe that is more a personal preference and possibly even deliberate.
It's difficult to speak of any narrative, not because it lacks any, but because the discovery itself is much of the experience and I wouldn't want to spoil this. It definitely feels slightly linear but you are never rushed through as often you have a place to stop and look around. I can say though that it had me feeling exhilarated, sad, confused and contented through its different points. Many people are calling comparison to Journey from ThatGameCompany and I can see why this is the case, especially with the art director Matt Nava being the same man behind Abzû's own. I personally feel it is a lot closer to Flower, (also by ThatGameCompany and Matt Nava) because of the flowing feeling, ambiguous story and colourful landscapes. But there are a lot of similarities between the three.
I very much enjoyed my experience with Abzû and I am certainly looking forward to playing it again another time to pick up anything I missed. It was perfect for my lazy Sunday and the four or so hours I played were certainly very happy ones. I recommend it to anyone who likes to explore at a slower pace and has fun taking tons of pictures of the gorgeous scenes they see. It was definitely gratifying for me and I'll be waiting to see what else Giant Squid comes up with in the future. If they can continue to offer something this jubilant I can see them coming a long way.
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