by JACOB PADILLA
Over the last three to four years in video games, a relatively uncommon type of game has been increasing in popularity, allowing for some of the best games of all time come into existence. These are “experience” games, or games that aren’t played for mechanics, but are heavily story driven. These games are meant to be gone through with no direct goal and a fairly linear storyline, and Abzu masters the style perfectly.
Abzu was a game made by a game developer studio called GiantSquid, the masterminds behind a few other games of the same genre such as Journey and Dandelion. Abzu, itself, is an underwater exploration-driven game with no dialogue. It’s story up to interpretation as there is no exposition or backstory to be seen other than pictures.
The game’s primary feature that allows it to not have a clearly stated story is the visual aesthetic and graphic expertise of the ocean environments and habitats depicted throughout the game. The art style is pleasant to look at, as it’s cartoonish style makes it not completely realistic.This is done very well and gives a sense of fantasy in an underwater world that already exists, which is quite a good feeling. Along with this, the lighting in the different rooms is superb, and sets the mood of each stage very well. Overall, the looks and aesthetics of the game are well done and make the game more beautiful looking than any other game seen before.
The gameplay itself has no actual goal or instruction on where to go, so it forces players to seek out the paths and explore the expertly made areas of sea life in order to progress in the game. The way players move through the story and enter new areas is mostly at their own pace. Each stage has fairly simple puzzles that players use to get through to the next area; However, each puzzle requires the player look around and see all the life and environment, which is the side goal of the game. Almost everything in the game encourages people to explore and look around at the world created, making for a slow paced, calming, and gorgeous experience.
Abzu also has a soundtrack that is made to be calming and soothing throughout the story, setting tones of mystery and discovery as the players explore the world they are immersed in. It is coordinated with the different lighting and visual styles of each stage and are perfect for the pace of the game, and the ocean theme in general. Along with this, the performance is very smooth and runs seamlessly despite the loads of AI and individual entities that are everywhere in the game. This is an impressive feat in the context of programming and retaining the ability for the game to perform well. I found the ability to swim through a bait ball with thousands of individual fish a very memorable experience in particular.
The game’s story, since there is not dialogue or text, is told solely through pictures and actions taken by the players themselves and surrounding creatures. Because this is how it’s told, it can be interpreted differently depending on who is playing the game. I personally found the story to be interesting and about fixing mistakes, however someone else can interpret it as a hero story. The idea of picking apart clues for the story and putting the pieces together on your own flows well and works nicely with the exploration aspect, adding a sense of mystery and reason for exploring the world. The curiosity of wanting to find a goal gives motivation to progress other than just following a path given by the game.
Abzu does have a few things that can be seen as negative, such as its length. The game itself can be finished in about two hours, and can be done faster or slower depending on how fast the player wants to progress. It doesn’t have a huge amount of replayability, due to the fact it is based on discovery and learning. It has some replayability if people want to learn everything about the world, but once everything has been discovered, the game is pretty much finished. People can just watch the fish swim around and interact but not much more than that.
Overall, Abzu is an exploration of the oceanic world with a smooth pacing, great soundtrack, incredible aesthetics, interesting gameplay, and a story to be interpreted by each person. In the end I would rate Abzu 9/10. It only seems to be lacking in game length, although, it can be said that it is intentionally short for. Abzu is a masterpiece of a game, almost more comparable to art than a game, and puts another impressive game under Giant Squid’s belt.