After offering a fantastic five-title lineup under the Launch Party 2016 banner, Sony is back with another collection of four digital-only games. Dubbed PlayStation PLAY 2016, it kicked off with Double Fine’s Headlander and continues this week with 505 Games’ ABZÛ, an underwater adventure that taps into the same sense of visual splendor as games like Journey and Child of Eden.
As opposed to Song of the Deep, which assigned much more weight and pull to moving around beneath the waves, ABZÛ handles very fluidly. You manipulate your diver and the camera in conjunction via the respective analog sticks, including the ability to invert either or both to your liking.
Swimming in any direction requires you to hold down the right trigger, which gets annoying over long distances — enough so that I switched between my index and middle fingers during gameplay as they’d eventually fatigue. It’s the same deal with the left trigger, only in those cases you latch on to larger fish and allow them to take you for a ride. A brief bust of speed (X) is available as well.
There are also a dozen meditation points to locate, and once you do you can take a seat and press the touchpad to “meditate.” For the purposes of the game, that equates to following a random fish around via a rotatable view. It’s a cool way to tour the area and watch everything interact, and you’re free to switch any time by tapping the left stick. I just wish it were easier to follow a specific fish.
While not everything works as smoothly as it could have, there is, as far as I can tell, no way to die or fail during ABZÛ, so any shortcomings are minor. And for the most part, it’s a very relaxing yet still rather exhilarating experience to swim through vast areas teeming with fish.
Presentation is easily ABZÛ‘s top selling point. The underwater world is beautiful and more diverse than you might expect, as the game brings along some ancient civilization elements that add gorgeous murals and alien structures to create a sci-fi edge. To be clear, this isn’t a series of scuba-diving missions; you never need to come up for air and are free to explore every inch unfettered.
As incredible as the environments are, the sea creatures prove to be the game’s true stars. It starts simple enough, but the deeper you go the larger and more fantastical they get. Swimming alongside massive whales or darting through a school of colorful fish is awesome, relaying a simplistic beauty that’s not easy to explain.
Keeping pace with each stroke is a wonderful soundtrack. Composed by Austin Wintery, the sweeping orchestral score is a treat for the senses, enhancing the surrounding world throughout the entirety of the game. With the video and audio operating in perfect synch, it’s hard to say I’ve played another game this year that blended those factors as deftly.
There’s no dialogue, spoken or written, in ABZÛ with the game instead allowing you to infer what’s going on without ever really answering what actually is. Basically, you’ll spend your time swimming around, and then tracking down a companion or activating a device or two to progress. While each new area is notably different visually, the gameplay, such as it is, doesn’t change.
What that means is if you’re the type of gamer that wants to be challenged to overcome obstacles or be treated to lots of action, ABZÛ is likely to bore you. You’re never in danger, never pushed to swim through an area with speed or dexterity… none of it. ABZÛ is here to create an experience that very few games have tried to provide. Nothing more.
Unquestionably, the obvious comparison is Journey, though even that asked you to do some mild platforming and offered foes that could hurt you. Eventually you will run into some mine-type objects that appear to deliver a sort of electrical shock, but they’re non-lethal, and you don’t lose anything by bumping into them — which is good because they’re difficult to avoid.
Of course, I’d be remiss if I didn’t note the price ($19.99) and length (about three hours), and the only thing to do once you finish is replay it or revisit the meditation points you found along the way. Again, if that sort of thing bothers you, odds are ABZÛ isn’t for you.
I really enjoyed my time with ABZÛ, and even though it isn’t a long game, it feels like the proper length based on what you’re doing. If you appreciated the likes of Flower and Journey, ABZÛ should be right up your alley.