Posted 06 Dec 2018 at 17:44 by Ashley Jones
Gaming is often associated with action and violence. There’s an old adage that game mechanics are based around verbs, but seldom are these ‘relax’ or ‘explore’. Sure, games such as Zelda contain an element of exploration but recently a genre has popped up that is just about exploration.
Titles such as Journey, Firewatch and What Remains of Edith Finch have shown that sometimes the journey is the most rewarding part and Abzû takes this exploration underwater, not unlike Endless Ocean.
The main purpose of Abzû is to explore but really it’s a game you absorb yourself in. The game’s visuals, soundtrack and controls work together to create a relaxing and absorbing experience. There are even spots where you can stop to meditate, switching the viewpoint to the creatures of the sea and essentially turning the screen into a virtual aquarium.
While you can leisurely swim around in the various open areas of the vast ocean there are intriguing waypoints to encourage progression, offering just enough of a visual hint to lure you in. Much like Rime it slowly shows you this familiar-yet-different world you are in, encouraging you to figure out what it all means.
The only interaction you can have with the world is through using the Y button to send out a sonar signal. This enables you to collect little robotic companions, trigger actions and even convince a shoal of fish to join you temporarily.
Moments in the game essentially take control from you as you get caught up in a rushing current, but the loss of control allows you to appreciate the beauty of the game. You suddenly find yourself hurtling through a variety of underwater species as they move around you. Abzû is one of those games that were made for the capture button.
There are a few triggers that initiate set pieces where the game removes your control as the world around you changes and comes to life. This is meant to be a moment to sit back and enjoy the spectacle of the art but unfortunately on the Switch port all you can appreciate is the framerate issues that cause the cutscene to splutter its way through.
It’s a shame that such a beautiful and relaxing game is let down by something that takes you out of the moment. I’m a patient person so it never stopped me from playing, but it is bound to be too annoying for some. Much like Rime it seems like the Switch port has suffered some technical problems that will hopefully get fixed in a later patch.
The best part of Abzû is the experience itself and letting yourself just take a moment to appreciate the wonders of the sea. It’s simple gameplay mechanics (some may even argue it doesn’t really have any) and its elusive narrative are not going to appeal to certain audiences, but it is one of the most relaxing and captivating experiences I have ever played.
It’s roughly three hour length will make some question its value, but to look at a game like this purely in terms of the shortest possible path is missing the point. Ambling through the ocean and admiring the visuals; following your curiosity to a corner of the environment that has caught your eye; just watching the underwater creatures move around independently. These are all things that make Abzû truly unique and truly worthwhile.
N-Europe Final Verdict
Few games are as engaging and yet relaxing as Abzû. The visuals, sound and controls all work together to provide a unique experience worth getting lost in.
Calming and enjoyable
Easy to get lost in
Length & minimal gameplay not for all