Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Giant Squid Studios
Genre: Interactive Adventure
Release Dates: 2 Aug, 2016 (EU & NA)
Just like Journey and Flower, Matt Nava's previous projects, Abzu takes a more relaxing, exploration-focused approach on video games, resulting in a more lounge experience that might not appeal to everyone, but the lack of gameplay complexity makes it easy to pick up for everyone, even if they're not experienced gamers. Abzu is the kind of game that even your parents could play and see how video games can craft entirely new worlds filled with beauty and points of interest in every corner, forcing you to find your own way through the sea as there are no objective markers or quests to track, but instead putting you in a new and intriguing environment each level and giving you complete freedom over what you're about to do next.
With that being that, the sad part is that there isn't that much to do aside from the A to B general objective of each level that you will eventually reach, regardless of the paths you take, however each level has a bunch of collectibles and a couple of Easter eggs that might encourage you to replay the game a second time and fully explore the map in case you rushed your first playthrough. It should be mentioned however, that those little distractions don't change anything to the overall experience and the story, but since each level has a distinct look, exploring them while looking for those collectibles is purely a joy.
What makes Abzu a unique experience is the underwater world that has been designed and tweaked to perfection by Giant Squid, filled with fish, whales, squids and innumerable sea plants that mixed together create a believable and authentic world that is as fun to watch as it is to play; matter of fact, since there is little gameplay involved you could easily experience Abzu by just watching a friend or a Youtuber play it.
Abzu is simply a must play on a controller, as it was designed that way from the beginning and that clearly shows, but even with that in mind the gameplay is mostly focused on swimming while in the water and walking while on land, with a couple of puzzles along the way that are obvious from the first look and shouldn't be a problem to get past. As mentioned before, there is no actual challenge in Abzu, you can't die and you can't do something wrong, only explore more or less of what each level has to offer, but the overall design of each level is unique, so you'll never feel like you're doing something for too long, especially since you can finish the entire game in about 3 hours.
The challenge in Abzu is finding all the statues, pools, shells and easter eggs, which you should be able to do naturally without even using a guide since you mostly know what you're looking for, and when you do bump into one of those few easter eggs, the surprise and joy it brings with it will mean that much more, just because you decided to look around and see what other mysteries the sea hides.
The design is probably the main attraction of this game, simply because it's beautiful to look at; never before have we seen an underwater world concept brought to life in such an artistic way, and for that alone this game is worth a try if you haven't seen someone else play it before. Every single corner of the sea is filled with creatures, plants and rock formations that stand and move naturally, just like they would in a real coral reef.
Another thing that Abzu does really well is ambient, as each level will have a different tune that changes depending on area and the creatures around you and for fans of Journey, the overall feel of the game is unmatched, just because it drags you with it into the experience, both visually, as well as audio. There are also a bunch of astonishing audio effects that bring the movement of each plants and creature in the endless sea to life, which is why I would recommend playing this game with headphones on.
There are achievements for collecting all the shells, pools and statues as well as discovering the Easter eggs, so that might be a reason to replay the game a second time in case you missed any, however aside from that there is nothing else in the game, which might turn away some heads since the full price is 19.99€.
Abzu is not a game for everyone, and in some aspects it's probably not even a game, but more of an interactive experience, but if you like those types of games you will most surely be happy playing Abzu, however I wouldn't recommend picking it up at full price, since that 20€ is a bit too much for a three hour long experience.