This will be the second time ABZU has been reviewed on our site. To see the original, click here.
I’ve been looking forward to reviewing ABZÛ for quite some time. For a title that’s been already receiving near universal acclaim, I still wanted to witness it myself and be able to write about what many deem as yet another fine example of flawless independent game development. Rarely does a debutante dev team such as in Giant Squid’s case, manage to create a game which appeals to both critics and players while offering a unique perspective that just happens to look absolutely stunning. You’d be hard-pressed to find something truly bothersome about such a relaxing experience.
While I’m always going to be a fan of complex storylines, plot twists and proper character development, I have to say that ABZÛ’s disregard for conventional storytelling is an intriguing change of scenery. Ambiguity serves the game just as fine since the players’ imagination will admirably fill up any potential narrative gaps. Until halfway through, we can’t even be certain of The Diver’s gender, let alone motivations or identity. A nameless, tranquil and genderless character which still conveys as much emotion as Chaplin’s silent movies, in spite of even fewer facial expressions. Action speaks louder than words on occasion. Far from being a moralizing tale about protecting the environment (in this particular case, oceans and their wildlife), some elements still point in that direction.
Diver has no mortal enemies in ABZÛ and violence is never emphasized or even mildly featured. No sign of blood, when predators catch their prey and I am glad that I got to play a game in which I’m neither hunted nor hunter. Meditation plays an important role and the locations which you shall visit range from realistic such shallow waters and the Abyss, to more fantastical realms and situations involving both sentient machinery and even ruins of an underwater civilization which I can’t help but regard as Atlantis. Again, I respect the decision to never fully reveal the time, place and characters within this title. We must perceive it as we wish and think of it whatever we want, since enjoying the trip is still the element all ABZÛ players have in common.
Been a while since an Unreal Engine 4-powered project placed a smile upon my face. Strictly referring to indie games, UE4 is both unstable and poorly implemented in 9 out of 10 cases. ABZÛ is naturally, the exception since it never crashed once during my sessions nor did it feature unbearable frame rate dips, if playing at 4K resolution. I went for 2560x1440p instead, since I wanted to run ABZÛ maxed out and with constant 60fps no matter how much marine life was being rendered on screen. My only complaint for the entire game, stems from its graphical options or the lack thereof, more precisely.
Never been a fan of motion blur since it messes up my screenshots (which most of the time, double as desktop wallpapers). Motion blur which you can’t even toggle on/off is the worst type. Never understood why it has to be implemented outside of racing games but at this point, its inclusion has become standard issue for the vast majority of recently released titles, regardless of their genre. It might seem like a minor detail and truth be told, while playing the game, you may not even notice the blur. It only becomes clear as daylight, while you’re examining the screenshots you took. Overall, it’s something which will likely bother few players. I never hurried one bit and captured 115 screenshots within this wonderful game so far.
With such a visual style and relaxing gameplay, the soundtrack had to keep up and it actually surpassed my expectations. OST’s filled with instrumentals which never stick close to a single genre and fit the current in-game mood like a glove. Again, not what you’d expect from a developer with no previously released projects. They had both skilled composers and advisers. There’s really nothing to complain about the sounds. The effects are just as convincing and since there’s no dialogue or narrator, voice acting was never taken into account.
I have mentioned already, the non-violent nature of the gameplay. ABZÛ’s action revolves around exploration first and foremost. Admiring the various sea creatures and plant life is only interrupted from time to time by the simple puzzle sections which usually involve activating a mechanism in order to clear the way towards the next level. Collectibles are purely optional, as usual. Several Steam Achievements are tied to them so it’s best to keep an eye out, but don’t stress too much if you missed one or two. I firmly believe that replay value can be found even in relatively short stories and this game surely deserves a second playthrough, anytime the players might feel like revisiting the vibrant world within ABZÛ.
With the fauna & flora being completely peaceful towards the Diver, it may approach them at will and even interact with the larger ones. As you can imagine, the true protagonists in the game are the sea creatures themselves. Large or small, vertebrates, crustaceans or cephalopods. All of them need the Diver’s protection from the invasive machinery and metal debris (which are a pretty obvious metaphor to marine pollution and human interference). One key aspect of the gameplay which I truly enjoyed, was the gradual introduction of the different species of plants and animals. The first few chapters feature still ubiquitous (& some endangered) species, afterwards a few living fossils (Coelacanth, Goblin Shark, Horseshoe Crab) make their appearance and by the end of the game, we are being presented to species long extinct such as the Elasmosaurus and my personal favorite, Archelon (the largest sea turtles ever to grace Terra’s oceans).
Diver has an intriguing interaction with a Great White Shark. I do wonder why isn’t the Megalodon present in ABZÛ? If we’re going to theorize that some extinct species have survived thanks to “Atlantis” seclusion, why not feature the Great White Shark’s bigger and far meaner cousin? We’re talking of a prehistoric shark which was at least three times larger than today’s standards and capable of hunting whales. Speaking of which, giant sea creatures wouldn’t be properly introduced, without the Diver meeting both the abyssal Giant Squid (Architeuthis) and the Blue Whale, which is currently the largest animal on Earth. Meditation is implemented in-game through a series of twelve shark statues, placed across ABZÛ’s levels. Diver gets to sit on these statues and contemplate while its focus gets shifted towards the creatures around. Swimming, stalking, preying. While meditating, players can switch between the wildlife’s perspective and also get familiar with their names while admiring their graceful or rapacious nature. Insightful is an understatement.
Brief or not, ABZÛ is definitely the type of game you’ll revisit more than once. It’s purposely ambiguous but its narrative is still going to leave a vivid impression and considering its nearly artistic (and the more obvious educational) value, I’d say that the price tag is fully justified even outside a Steam Sale or bundle. It gets plenty of those as well, since ABZÛ’s growing popularity is something everyone involved, should be proud of. Devs and players alike. Giant Squid, I am eagerly awaiting a sequel!
All the screenshots you see above, have been taken by me in-game through the Steam Overlay.