The best thing about games made by independent developers is that they can take risks that bigger, more expensive games can’t. The latest indie game to go in a bold direction is Abzu, an artistic experience that’s meant to sweep players along for a ride on an oceanic diving expedition.
The big question for PS4 owners is whether the experience Abzu offers is one worth taking. Let’s take a look at what you can expect from the game to help you decide whether or not it’s worth adding to your collection.
1. It’s all about exploration
Of all the features of Abzu, the one most likely to be divisive is that it’s not as interactive as most of the games we play. There’s very little to do here other than look around. Not much in the game threatens your character, and only the most barebones of puzzles offer barriers to forward progress. The point is clearly to swim through the gorgeous underwater environments and see what there is to see.
2. It’s gorgeous
And there’s a lot to see, all of it beautiful. That’s the real draw here. With nothing very interesting going on in terms of narrative or gameplay mechanics, what are we left with? The art, the colors, the animation, and the mystery of what you’ll find around the next corner. Even if it doesn’t add up to the emotional highs of Journey, it has plenty of beauty to offer.
And unlike Journey, with its desolate desert landscape, Abzu is teeming with life. The water is full of sea creatures big and small, from giant whales to schools of tiny fish thick as smoke. All of the flora and fauna are real, so don’t come to the game expecting fantastical creatures. The game takes place in a realistic world.
3. No discernible story
Most games that shift their focus from gameplay and mechanical challenges tend to focus on narrative. Think Telltale’s The Walking Dead and games like Firewatch and Heavy Rain. The point of those games is to tell a story.
While Abzu largely shrugs off gameplay, it doesn’t focus on story, either. There are bits and pieces of lore and explanation you can pick up by observing the environments, but nothing that resembles a satisfying narrative with a beginning, middle, and end. It’s more like a video game version of a tone poem. Journey was similar to some extent, but its themes came through more clearly than they do in Abzu. The point here really seems to be enjoying the game’s beauty, which not everyone will buy into.
4. Made by Journey alums
The similarities between Abzu and Journey are no coincidence. Abzu was made by many of the same people, including Matt Nava, the art director of Journey.
5. Killer soundtrack
The sense of exploration is heightened by the soundtrack, a melodic collection of music that fits with the tone of the game, morphing and shifting as you go from area to area, always fitting with the mood of the environments depicted onscreen.
6. Digital only
Like lots of games lately, from The Witness to Song of the Deep, Abzu is a downloadable game that’s not available on disc. If you want it, you have to navigate to the PlayStation Store to get it.
7. It’s short
This could be a positive or a negative, depending on who you are and how much free time you have to devote to games. Abzu only takes about two hours to complete. It is worth replaying to see everything again, but it’s not a game that’s going to keep you occupied for hours on end. It’s short length also means it has no filler. No sections feel repetitive or slow. It’s a game that moves from one memorable scene to another. Like Journey, it’s a game that’s best played in a single sitting.
Verdict: Play it
Abzu is a bold game that’s not going to appeal to everyone. But if you ever feel like relaxing and playing a game devoid of tension and challenge, it fits the bill better than almost any other game around.