ABZÛ is a beautiful game set in a stunning underwater environment, described to me as an exploratory adventure, those words didn’t do justice to the game that pulled me along as surely as the currents you’ll run into throughout it. I was immediately reminded of Journey or Flower with the open areas and lightly narrated gameplay, that aims to show more than tell. For good reason, since the art director behind Journey had a large part in the creation of ABZÛ. While not the longest of gaming ventures, clocking in just under two hours to completion, I enjoyed every minute of it, and constantly found things that I wanted to show off in the changing setting.
It is evident that the game was made more for an experience than a story. At many points you are left in wide open areas brimming with life, meditation statues dot the game that allow you to commune with fish, shifting your viewpoint dynamically from school to school. While there is a narrative, it is a loose string that guides you from area to area, with light puzzles throughout to move on. What really grabbed me about ABZÛ was how immediately engaging it was. I never felt jarred by overly gamey things like boss fights or “collect all these hidden things to unlock this cool thing”. There is a smattering of collectibles that aren’t incredibly important, and thus don’t demand the utilitarian approach of some Assassin’s Creed games, with their thousand and one feathers/chests/memory fragments.
The art style is the star of the game, with vibrant colours and reefs offset by moody ocean depths. Smooth lines abound and the only break from the eye popping swarms of fish and larger than life beasts comes as the story begins to unfold, where the developers make great use of a drastic change in scenery to drive the player forward. It was easy to find a memorable picture at every turn, and while the camera could be slightly fidgety in movement, the casual pace of progression allows you to take in most of the places you find yourself throughout. Controls are slick otherwise, and I quickly got used to the omni-directional movement and freedom that an underwater game should have.
It may be tempting to skip on ABZÛ due to its relatively short playtime and pricing, but it was definitely worth the time I spent with it. I found a stunning masterpiece that really demanded my attention, and delivered on feelings of awe that a lot of video games miss when you’re busy thinking about how you’re going to specialize your team or what units you need for your army. I won’t spoil the ending by any means, but it will definitely stay in my memory for the next time someone asks about a game that stood out, as a golden example of storytelling by exploration rather than overdone narrative or lengthy exposition.