“The name references a concept from the oldest mythologies; it is the combination of the two ancient words AB, meaning ocean, and ZÛ, meaning to know. ABZÛ is the ocean of wisdom.”
– ABZÛ Official Website
In 2013 Matt Nava, who previously worked as Art Director at thatgamecompany, announced his new studio Giant Squid. The studio’s first game, ABZÛ, in many ways feels like a spiritual successor to Journey and that’s not particularly shocking when you consider that both the Creative Director, Matt Nava and Composer, Austin Wintory are both part of the teams that helped bring both games to life. At the same time it’s a little unfair to paint ABZÛ as “Journey – but underwater”. The similarities are strong, but there’s a lot going on here that serve to differentiate the two, and ABZÛ is perfectly capable of standing (swimming?) on its own. An ocean of wisdom isn’t just a cool translation of ABZÛ, it’s an apt description of the world Giant Squid has created, one that’s brimming with hundreds of different species of marine life and plenty of secrets to unfold.
Throughout much of ABZÛ you’ll be treated to spectacular views not just of the ocean, but of hundreds of species of fish, all of which acting of their own accord and, well, just behaving exactly as you’d expect each particular species to behave. This only becomes more apparent the first time you witness a predator successfully chasing down its prey; this entire world you’ve been given to explore doesn’t just revolve around your journey of discovery, there’s an entire ecosystem that’s set to continue no matter where your story leads. What’s even more impressive is how many fish are often onscreen at any given moment, how dynamic everything in the environment is, and the sense of scale that comes with encountering something as big as a blue whale.
Swimming alongside schools of fish, leaping from the water alongside dolphins, and witnessing all that ABZÛ’s ocean has to offer up close is really something special. There’s such a smooth and carefree nature to the way your character moves that, when accompanied by the game’s score, it’s relaxing to just swim around aimlessly. Then, there are the moments where you’re caught swimming alongside dozens of fish in a heavy current, the music picks up its pace, and the area in front of you opens up to reveal the vast ocean at its finest. The brilliance of ABZÛ’s soundtrack is clear in the way that it’s made to compliment your adventure; whether it’s riding a current or exploring the darkest depths of the ocean, the music is there to resonate with you. It also helps that the sound design is used in such a way to marry the sounds of the ocean with ABZÛ’s score resulting in a sense of immersion that made me yearn for a version of this game in VR.
At the heart of your journey, ABZÛ is about finding answers, and to do that, you’ll move forward through several distinct chapters. Progression typically involves repairing special drones that’ll help open up the path ahead or pulling levers to unlock gates, both of which are simple tasks designed in such a way that rewards exploration. On top of that, there are fish that must be released from hidden pools, secret shells to collect, and meditation statues to find. Meditating in particular plays into the more relaxed nature of the game and allows you to simply stop and observe all the species of fish that surround you. While meditating the game will even display the name of any fish you observe, which I really appreciated for some of the species I didn’t recognize. Though in meditation there’s a black bar on the top of the screen that doesn’t seem to serve a purpose, other than covering up the screen, and I often found myself wishing that the game would use it display more information on the fish I was observing. I’d also like an easier way to identify how many hidden pools I’ve found in the game, there are places to view progress on meditation statues and seashells, but I’m not sure where to start looking for any hidden pools I’ve missed after two playthroughs.
ABZÛ should be played with as few story details known as possible. The story and your journey are made great by the surprises that happen along the way, so take your time and explore everything that ABZÛ offers to you, it is absolutely worth it.
A copy of this game was provided by the publisher for review purposes. For more info on our review policy click here.
What I Like:
- Swimming alongside fish, both small and LARGE!
- Plenty of reasons to explore
- Fantastic art direction
- Some really great surprises along the way
- The last section of the game is pretty great
- Riding currents reminded me of Finding Nemo
What I Dislike:
- Would like a way to see how many hidden pools I'm missing