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Abzû – PlayStation 4

Abzû – PlayStation 4

abzu-cover-2 PlatformPlayStation 4

Developer: Giant Squid Studios

Publisher: 505 Games

Release Date: August 2, 2016

Genre: Adventure  

Nerd Rating:  7.5 / 10

Reviewed by Rhutsczar

Have you ever wanted to just slow down, take a minute, and watch a world thriving under the water? When we enter the ocean, many titles are focused on fast-paced action to speed up the player and move on to the next scene. However, Abzû takes a different approach as the player can move about the ocean at their leisure. It may be beautiful and impress/inspire you, or it could absolutely terrify you. Regardless, prepare to be surprised about what fragile lives thrive just underneath the waves.

In Abzû, you control a mysterious diver who has awoken at the surface of the ocean… lost and alone. As you dive deep down into the beautiful abyss, you will uncover ruins as well as ancient technology that has been lost to the ages. While you travel from region to region, your job is to free the species that have also been lost, imprisoned, and unable to free themselves. Since Abzû is loosely inspired by one of the original mythological creation stories the concept of adding life back into the ocean fits with the theme. It is up to you, the modern-day incarnation of Abzû, to restore life in the ocean to its former glory.

While Abzû is a visual and auditory thrill ride, how does it convey a story without any use of dialog at all? Abzû‘s origins lie in Sumerian culture, rich with tales about the Cosmic Ocean that span multiple mythologies. Widely considered as one of the first creation stories (Judaism, Christianity, Zoroastrianism), the Cosmic Ocean tells the story of the unification of mystical beings Tiamat and Abzû as they create life among the world’s waters. A beautiful story that can only be told in an alluring set piece.

Abzû is a rather interesting title as it relies heavily on artistic expression to tell its narrative. This isn’t too surprising as it correlates with the style of the brains behind the operation; Giant Squid Studios. If that name sounds familiar that’s because they were also the creators behind titles such as Journey and Flower. Not only does their involvement add plenty of depth to an already beautiful game, but the use of Unreal Engine 4 takes it to another level entirely. The liquid dynamics are fluid, the sea life is crafted beautifully, and we have never seen such a lively ocean.

The controls are rather simple since their primary function is for movement and the creators tried to stylize that aspect by allowing full control (including flips and rolls) with just a push of the button…no complexity required! To be perfectly honest, they were also personally my biggest drawback for Abzû. While the title is relatively easy to pick up and play, the fluidity of the surrounding environment makes the Diver move irrationally and doesn’t always want to follow your directions. This is especially a hindrance in the later half of Abzû when you have to squeeze in tight spaces to avoid being blown up.

However, the air of caution when it comes to death is virtually non-existent. Why do you ask? Well, you are immortal and can’t die. You can be exploded as many times as you like and just merely shrug it off as a stun. This is one example of what Abzû does best. Unlike many other games, Abzû focuses much more on exploration and discovery rather than survival. This does allow us to slow down and admire our surroundings instead of struggling to survive. Just slow down and wade through the waves.

One thing that has been generally accepted across the board is how visually stunning Abzû is for the player, and I couldn’t agree more, but what about the score? Created by composer Austin Wintory, Abzû’s score took over three years to complete. Wintory wrote the initial theme, “To Know, Water”, rather early on in production and spent most of the production schedule trying to find the correct compositions to fill in the gaps. The score challenged Wintory, forcing him to go into un-inhabited waters.

“The resulting score is one I can definitely say pushed me into territory I’d never been. The odd combination of large harp ensemble, semi-traditional orchestra and chamber choir, led by a slew of delicate oboe solos by Kristin Naigus, gave me ingredients for experimentation that were simultaneously great fun and deeply intimidating. All the performers brought incredible magic and I’m eternally grateful for their artistry.” – Austin Wintory

Giant Squid Studios, a mere team of just 13 people, were able to create something that isn’t just auditory ecstasy but visual therapy as well. The creative team put the Unreal Engine 4 into full use trying to re-create not just the sense of diving but the sense of discovery and exploration of a world not unlike our own. Fun fact, because of the spelling of the title and use of the circumflex over the “u,” many computers would not compute proper coding as it was unrecognizable.

Overall, I would say that if you need a nice and relaxing break from all of the blood and murder/death, Abzû is a solid choice. Not only is the story and background insanely interesting and grounded in real world beliefs, but the title is also a treat for the eyes and ears. You may be confused as hell when you first start, but once you dive in and meditate under water you will feel calm, relaxed, and adaptable. With simple albeit frustrating controls, Abzû may not be a challenge, but definitely an experience. Don’t let this diving simulator look a like fool you, there is plenty of rich gameplay and narrative under the waves. You can currently find Abzû available on the PlayStation Store for $19.99.

Written by Rhutsczar

Hello everybody! Thanks for reaching the end of whatever my newest/current addiction is above me. I’m pretty sure it’s an RPG, since it’s my favorite genre I try to find the most underrated and niche games possible. Anyway if you like what you read and would like to check out more, follow the links below. Also be sure to check out the RBG over on Beyond Bacon!.

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