While I do my best to keep ABZÛ’s mysteries alive for the reader, this review may contain minor spoilers.
In 2012, Journey captivated the gaming industry with its gorgeous art style and breathtaking musical score. After its release, Journey‘s art director Matt Nava left developer thatgamecompany to found his own studio and serve as creative director on a passion project of his own. With a new team at Giant Squid Studios on board for the ride – including Journey‘s composer Austin Wintory – ABZÛ was born.
In the game’s opening moments, we are introduced to the Diver, a shadowy figure floating at the ocean’s surface. After the player assumes control and takes her underwater, the Diver’s adventure begins to unfold, progressing through a series of gorgeously animated locales, each set to its own unique musical theme and teeming with aquatic life. A mystery begins to unravel as you advance deeper into the world, forcing the player to carefully consider his or her relationship with the environment by contrasting the well-worn state of your surroundings against hints of a prosperous ancient history long forgotten.
Visually speaking, ABZÛ is an incredible achievement. Its striking art style comes alive as you enter each new area that bustles with a wide variety of underwater species. Across the game’s varied environments, there are a number of hidden secrets that, when unearthed, add a greater diversity of aquatic life to marvel at as you progress through the story. A wide variety of convincingly animated species will often travel around the Diver in schools, making the game feel alive at all times.
With its captivating visual style and incredible sound design working in tandem, ABZÛ achieves a level of immersion rarely matched in the industry. From the moment you first depart the tranquility of the ocean’s surface in search of the unknown, the game’s sound design pulls you in. The cacophony of distant birds and crashing waves at the surface pave the way for ABZÛ‘s impressive soundtrack to take hold as you explore the depths below. Wintory’s score ebbs and flows brilliantly with the action on screen, picking up the pace during upbeat moments while underlining a sense of helplessness as the future becomes uncertain. It’s when the soundtrack is at its best that ABZÛ excels at evoking emotion, pulling the player deeper into its perfectly realized setting.
ABZÛ can be experienced by a wide range of players with its relatively accessible control scheme and a low level of difficulty. While there are a number of puzzles that must be completed in order to advance through the game, they are often simple in nature and their solutions typically become clear as the player explores the environment. While ABZÛ is clearly designed to guide you through its unspoken narrative, getting lost in the environment only further immerses the player, making it a joy to take your time in reaching the journey’s end.
ABZÛ is a truly serene experience that often rivals its spiritual predecessor. Its brilliant score blends perfectly with the underwater setting, captivating the player and making it difficult to put the controller down over the 2-4 hour course of the game. In an increasingly crowded genre of experiences spurred on by Journey‘s success, ABZÛ is unquestionably worthy of your time, standing out for all the right reasons.
Score: 9.5 / 10