Have you ever wondered what Journey underwater might look like? Then look no further as Saman Izadyar regales his Abzû-lutely nautical adventure!
Abzû is essentially a diving simulator with an endless number of fish, and a huge aquarium to house everything in. I use the term ‘aquarium’ as Abzû creates the immense illusion of total underwater freedom, but it yanks at your flippers with disappointing invisible walls if you stray too far from the linear path. The ocean is a beautiful and mysterious place so it’s upsetting when all of the exploratory parts of the game are sectioned into little cubes of water; as if you were swimming around a really, really good looking Windows screensaver. Despite the above criticisms, Abzû is overflowing with gobsmacking moments and it can proudly be considered as the spiritual successor to Journey. Though the big question is: does it top Journey?
As a game, the answer is an arguable no. Abzû’s gameplay consists of swimming, swimming faster and getting slowly pushed by the current (aka lazy swimming). For those that find swimming too difficult, there’s the option of latching on to sea creatures and letting them do the swimming. Granted, Journey never offered much gameplay either, but in that game you could defy gravity with your mystical scarf. Making the scarf longer was one of the motivations for exploration, as being able to fly for longer had a direct positive correlation to the amount of majesticness experienced. It also presented the player with something to lose when the sinister antagonists appeared. Having your scarf get shredded meant that: one, you looked less cool and two, you lost all of your flying powers! Contrastingly in Abzû, there is no real sense of threat because the diver is invincible and refuses to don any fashionable accessories. There is no real reason to explore, except for sheer curiosity. Adding further insult to injury is that it feels overwhelmingly lonely without Journey’s anonymous multiplayer mechanic and social creatures. The creatures in Abzû pretentiously ignore you if you try to socialise with them.
If you consider Abzû more like an experience, then the answer to the big question is more of a hesitant maybe. Not everyone likes sand. It’s coarse, rough, irritating and it gets everywhere. Obscure film quotes and orcaward sea puns aside, Abzû fabricates a visually stunning underwater paradise. Upon completing it, I wanted nothing more than to strip down to my speedos and dive straight into the nearest sea. It’s the type of game where you should avoid all social contact, turn off the lights and watch your room magically transform into a wonderful ensemble of colour. Headphones are an absolute necessity to truly appreciate the masterpieces composed by Austin Wintory (also the composer behind Journey). Players can optionally make Abzû an educational voyage too. One can find out the name of every creature in the game by meditating on top of special statues. Story-wise it’s as ominous as its predecessor’s, favouring cryptic wall murals over stated narration. There’s a deep, overarching theme but one that the player needs to piece together themselves. Overall, it’s a slower paced and shorter ‘sequel’ to Journey, though playing it made me wish that I hadn’t played Journey first. The two share so many features that I’m surprised they didn’t name the game Déjà Abzû.
If you never got to play Journey then I would wholeheartedly recommend Abzû, especially if you’re an avid fan of the sea. If you have played Journey, then maybe wait for a price reduction as Abzû is still a pretty magical piece of digital art. La fin.
- Breath-taking visuals that will make you fall in love with the colour blue, green and orange
- Fantastic, goose bump inducing musical score
- Relaxing atmosphere – as chilled as the Arctic Ocean
- Too closely related to Journey – lack of mind-blowing originality
- Limited gameplay, limited challenge
- SAMAN IZADYAR (@SamanIzadyar)