Review: ABZÛ (PS4)

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Title: ABZÛ
Format: PlayStation Network Download (1.93 GB)
Release Date: August 2, 2016
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Giant Squid
Original MSRP: $19.99
ESRB Rating: E
ABZÛ is also available on PC.
The PlayStation 4 download version was used for this review.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes.
PS Nation Review Policy

Gameplay:
ABZÛ is the first game from Giant Squid, a studio that was founded by the art director of thatgamecompany’s Flower and Journey. This connection is very apparent because the game has the look and vibe of a thatgamecompany styled game which intrigued me because I am fan of those titles.

You play as scuba diver exploring the world that exists under the sea. There are no spoken words, the story is never directly laid out, and exploration and wonder are encouraged. The game is driven by pure exploration in a world with a stunning array of colors and one of the best soundtracks I have heard this year.

Gameplay mechanics are simple and accessible. You just swim and look at the beauty around you. There are hundreds of fish in any given section in the game that swim around dynamically which allows it all to feel like a real living world.

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Players can interact with the various life around them by hitting a chirp button that calls nearby fish to follow the diver. Where have I used a chirp button before? This does not have any practical purpose other than to fill the screen with life and the colors of the fish. It is a simple effect that never ceased to amaze me.

Other interactions with the fish include the ability to catch a ride on the large creatures like a whale or dolphin. It’s never really required but it’s more of a cool trick that can be done at various points.

… This game is about a journey, an experience …
Sticking to the theme of thatgamecompany, particularly Flower, players will come across areas where life has died and restoring these areas is the goal. The diver will come across them through the narrative and inside there will be collectibles that restore specific species of fish along with underwater wells that lead to visually trippy areas.

In these sections the diver will unlock the power to restore life to the dead areas completely causing them to fill underwater lakes and bring various species of fish and vegetation to life.

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There are puzzles in the game though they are so simple I would barely consider them puzzles due to their obvious nature. This might bother some though I enjoyed the relaxed nature of the story. This game is about a journey, an experience. I found the stunning world and vague narrative to be very fulfilling.

The whole three to four hours I spent playing felt like a practice of mediation rather than anything else. I lost track of time by messing around and trying to find what the limits were in different areas which, to my surprise, are rather large.

… hands down the best looking game I have played in 2016 …
I did hit invisible walls and such as expected and an indicator would give me directions if I strayed too far off track, but it was not intrusive and was just a casual reminder to go back to the narrative.

The game is difficult to put into words without spoiling the things I found to be most impressive or captivating and the lack of complexity leaves me with little to say about the overall experience outside of really enjoying it.

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Visuals:
This is hands down the best looking game I have played in 2016. I have no doubt about that. The game is simply stunning. From the living world filled with many species of fish to the various vibrant colors, everything comes together for a memorable experience.

ABZÛ is constantly building to bigger and more breathtaking environments and I was always looking forward to seeing the next area because of its ability to continue to top itself. Each level or area has a different color that dominates the palette and the helps differentiate particular areas from each other.

The last few areas feel vastly different from everything else while still maintaining a through line aesthetic. I would love to spoil some of the places this game goes visually, but I cannot do that to anyone nor do it any justice.

… like a form of mediation …
Audio:
Austin Wintory composed the music and he continues to be one of the best composers in gaming. His previous work on Journey has been praised to death and he adds another memorable score to his catalogue with ABZÛ.

With the story not containing any words or a clear narrative, the score becomes vital in expressing the emotions. This turns the music into a main character and plot device in itself.

The music can go from intense bursts to relaxed levels of mediation, whatever the story dictates with each section being composed elegantly. It’s wonderfully paced and encourages exploration and discovery and is essential to the overall experience.

Online/Multiplayer:
This game is singleplayer only with no online component.

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Conclusion:
ABZÛ will not be for everyone and that’s okay because everyone is different. I enjoyed every second that I played and its relaxed nature felt like a form of mediation.

The knocks that some people will have against it will be that the game is rather short and the mechanics are simple. These are the same complaints people had against Journey so if you weren’t into that experience then this game is simply not for you.

I completed it in a little under four hours and that’s with doing quite a bit of exploring, but not finding all the collectibles. I found the playtime to be a fully formed experience and any shorter and longer might have hurt my overall enjoyment.

I would even recommend playing the game in one sitting as I did because even though there are breaks built into the game, the story flows better without them. I feel that taking a break between areas could prevent some from immersing themselves in the world and that’s something that needs to happen to get a lot out of this game.

I highly recommend checking out ABZÛ for its stunning visuals and fantastic score. The narrative is difficult to describe and what players take away from it may vary from person to person. Therefore I encourage anyone to try the game out for themselves with an open mind.

Score:
9.0

* All screenshots used in this review were taken directly from the game using the Share functionality on the PlayStation 4.

Written by Michael Cwick

Michael Cwick

Just a nerd from the Windy City. I’m actually really bad at describing myself because I get all self-critical and self-conscious. Follow me on Twitter, @The1stMJC, to see my borderline insane rants on tv shows and other non important subjects. If I’m not tweeting I’m probably just watching Buffy or Firefly for the millionth time.

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