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After thatgamecompany’s last masterpiece Journey took off to critical acclaim, many wonder how can they can top themselves again? The answer to that is Abzu, made by some of Journey’s developers now at Giant Squid. Ever wonder what an underwater Journey would be like? That is Abzu in a nutshell. Abzu’s underwater worlds makes you look back to your childhood fantasies about exploring the ocean depths. While it plays similarly to Journey, there’s more beautiful and breathtaking moments. More importantly, Abzu is a superb, chill and smoothing game to play this summer especially being the calm before the storm for the big holiday rush.
You’re a nameless scuba diver free to explore the ocean depths. While most areas feel big enough to look for collectables, Abzu is a linear game at heart with a narrative. The swimming controls are okay, but I had to switch around normal and inverted schemes multiple times at certain sections. Just like Journey, there’s a “chirping” mechanic to activate drones that help out in your exploration. It can also be used for mediation statues and unlocking hidden pools for more fish. Mediation statues are there just literally mediate and look at your surroundings. It’s nice that you get to learn about the various fish in Abzu while mediating. At the same time, just riding a whale or shark around and breaching at the top is pretty cool too.
Abzu does have parallels to Journey, but it’s more of having ideas from thatgamecompany’s greatest hits rolled into one game. Some elements reminiscent of Flower are also in Abzu’s exhilarating moments. Jet streams where you’re just swimming through a current also chirping at other fish to follow you is awesome to experience. There are shrines you have to light up from darkness which also reminds me of Flower when beautifying the environment. While nothing in Abzu can top the impact of Journey’s infamous desert slide, there are more memorable moments underwater with fish. From synchronized diving with whales, going deeper into the ocean with sharks and the game’s final moments which I won’t spoil, there’s lots to take in with Abzu. You’re in awe of how beautiful the game looks and goes along with being engaged to see how it ends.
Abzu’s primary storyline revolves around the diver following a shark through the various levels. At first the shark doesn’t get along, but at the same time you have to follow it as if something is wrong. Around halfway into Abzu, it does become more of a game in terms of having to avoid certain obstacles. However, you can’t technically “die” like in Journey. The end the story does get into nature vs. machine territory, but that’s fine because how beautifully paced Abzu is. A normal playthrough does take around two to three hours and I also recommend playing this in a single sitting. Players wanting to explore more and find all the collectables will take a hour or two longer to complete. At least chapter select is unlocked when you beat the game.
The visuals in Abzu is simply breathtaking. Giant Squid did an incredible job bringing their vision of the ocean to life. From coral reefs and forests to going into darker depths, they know when to change things up as you proceed through the story. Many picture perfect moments such as swimming into a big school of fish like the first image above are awe-inspiring to experience. Also the performance is pretty consistent on both PS4 and PC from what I noticed. The soundtrack was masterfully done by Journey composer Austin Winory. It hits all the right notes at the perfect times adding along to the complete experience.
There’s the old argument whether or not games are art. Journey was definitely a big example of a game being considered art. Add Abzu to that list because of Giant Squid’s vision of the ocean being breathtaking. They make the ocean look inviting to explore as good as those TV shows on Discovery or National Geographic. At the same time, there’s also a simple yet easy to understand storyline and themes well tackled in Abzu. While it feels you’re going through the notions if you played Journey before, Abzu is still a must-play experience for $20. Many players are getting ready for the holiday gaming rush, but Abzu comes out at a perfect time when you need a night to play something calm and relaxing.