Going into the deep unknown.
It’s hard to talk about Giant Squid Studios’ game ABZÛ without ruining the unique exploration and abstract storytelling it offers throughout. And to makes matters more complicated, the game doesn’t explain anything except the simple control scheme in the beginning and leaves you on your own to explore the murky depths of this world under the sea.
Its colorful, seemingly open world is actually quite methodical in its design. What feels like a sandbox world is actually linear in form. Though each zone that’s lied out before the player is big enough and open enough to enjoy and explore the true beauty while never truly losing where to go or what do to next. So you’ll never feel cramped into a “straight road ahead” type of situation. There’s plenty of room to breath, and if I didn’t mention that it was linear, I don’t think most people would have noticed.
ABZÛ is a fully 360 degree rendered game where you are able to go in absolutely any direction. That leaves the controller up for moving the character in any direction. This will almost certainly lead to a conundrum for many players. For some it may just come naturally. But I found myself deep into the game still interpreting how to form my characters position to go the direction I desired.
[custom-quot]It’s a bit confusing as to why there are areas where you can take hits but have no consequences to them.[/custom-quote]
During zone segues there are moments when the game becomes on-rails or even transitions to a 2.5D perspective. These short iterations between “real” gameplay introduce a form of cutscene that brings together parts of the sea that other smaller areas just can’t encompass. These interacting scenes are often times some of the best moments in the game when you feel a real connection to what’s out there.
Oddly enough, there is danger within this game – that statement alone sounds odd in itself as most games do involve some form of danger or a challenge. However, right away you’ll notice the tranquility of swimming within these depths and never truly feel a sense of urgency to avoid anything that’s even remotely bad. What makes the danger that lies beneath odd is the fact that you can get hurt but you don’t die. There is no health bar or anything that indicates life and getting into trouble will only result in a couple seconds of gathering your wits and swimming to somewhere else. It’s a bit confusing as to why there are areas where you can take hits but have no consequences to them.
Shortly after the first area there will be locked doors. These doors are held shut by certain elements that must be unlocked before proceeding. Unfortunately these locks don’t take anything other than finding their location and clicking the Interact button on the controller. Often times there are two locations that must be sought out, but other than that puzzles, other forms of interaction are at a minimal.
"During zone segues there are moments when the game becomes on-rails or even transitions to a 2.5D perspective."
Besides navigation, the controls are simple to master. There’s a swim, interact, and speed up button, and a few others. The game is designed to move at a generally slow pace. It helps you enjoy the environment all around and interact with that comes out of the darkest of depths. There are times when you’ll feel as though you’d like to go a little faster: the speed button propels the character in three iterations: fast, faster, fastest. However the button must be pressed consecutively and timed well or it won’t work and you’ll have to try again. Another downside is that the speed only lasts a few seconds and doesn’t allow the character to stretch very far without having to do the speed boost all over again.
The game introduces what it calls “Mediation” statues within each location. These statues are used to actually experience a deeper interaction in first person within that zone. These interactions can be about discovering various plant life, learning the names of several species of fish and maybe even locating hidden areas and charms that you hadn’t discovered.
"ABZÛ is drastically short. Going from zone to zone, the game can be completed in about an hour."
The rhythm of the music within the game plays out much like Disney’s Fantasia the movie, though not quite as epic. The musical beats play along with the diver and the area of exploration. Lighter music for bright and colorful area, deeper and more mysterious music for darker and unknown regions. For being a fan of early Disney cartoons, especially Fantasia, the music within ABZÛ is really a throwback to what once was and it works well with the abstract storytelling — similar to Fantasia.
ABZÛ is drastically short. Going from zone to zone, the game can be completed in about an hour. There are small collectables and interesting tidbits to take in, but during your first play through, you may not realize there are certain areas you can not return from and you’ll end up in a new area before you’ve finished the last one.
By the time you’ve finished ABZÛ you’ll have more questions than answers. I sure do. What’s left is a world left to explore and to find our own answers in the deep. What’s sad about the overall experience however is that the game is indeed deep, but never truly engrossing.
This game was reviewed on the PlayStation 4.
Beautiful, vivid colors throughout, interesting concept, a fun world to explore.
Drastically short, controls may be overly difficult to get used to, a little too abstract in story, interactions are a bit dull, and danger that isn't actually dangerous. It tries so hard, but never reaches a moment that engrosses the player.
This visually stunning game is a great concept that never really gets to the point the developers may have intended. With an overly abstract story, uncomfortable controls, and not much to do but look at things, there isn't much left for players beyond the casual type.