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Review

Abzu Review

  • First Released Aug 2, 2016
    released
  • Reviewed Aug 2, 2016
  • PS4
  • PC
Chris Damien on Google+

Holy diver.

When I die, I hope whatever happens next is even half as beautiful as Abzu. Its mesmerizing soundtrack and Wind Waker-esque visuals are among the most enrapturing in recent memory, yet the game's true beauty stems not from its bittersweet score and inviting undersea environments but from its unfailing ability to imbue every moment with childlike wonder. Abzu is serene and meditative, calming and cathartic, moving and timeless, its simple components assembled so elegantly as to become something altogether richer.

There's a striking sort of purity about Abzu that invites comparison to another, equally powerful game: Journey. As in Journey, Abzu's characters are nameless, its story wordless, its campaign brief. It also eschews many mechanics we might consider standard for a modern adventure/exploration game, including combat, character progression, and fail states. It even lacks the ambient multiplayer that made Journey such a profound experience for many players. But Abzu finds meaning in other places and, like Journey, evokes a vast array of emotions with grace and ease.

When you ping your robot buddies, they playfully respond with little flips and chirping noises. Just imagine if WALL-E could swim.
When you ping your robot buddies, they playfully respond with little flips and chirping noises. Just imagine if WALL-E could swim.
Gallery image 1Gallery image 2Gallery image 3Gallery image 4Gallery image 5Gallery image 6Gallery image 7Gallery image 8Gallery image 9Gallery image 10

Though the campaign follows a linear path, you're typically free to explore areas at your own pace, following subtle environmental cues toward hidden details or grasping on to massive creatures like orcas and manta rays as they glide effortlessly through the blazing blue water. You can even pause to "meditate" at certain statues, allowing you to experience the world from the perspective of the animals around you. Doing so doesn't earn you anything; it's simply an opportunity to observe and enjoy the thriving ecosystems layered into every environment.

With lush kelp forests, pink coral reefs, and murky black trenches, Abzu captures the otherworldly beauty of the ocean and populates each breathtaking backdrop with its own unique fauna. You'll find all manner of fish, sharks, eels, whales, crustaceans, and more, all of which behave believably. And yet, somehow, I never felt threatened--curious, awestruck, even intimidated, but never threatened. There's something profoundly peaceful about drifting through that world with no score or objectives or heads-up display to break the spell.

No Caption Provided

That's not to say, however, that Abzu abandons gameplay completely. In fact, the swimming itself feels surprisingly satisfying, thanks in part to the game's novel control scheme. You swim straight ahead by simply squeezing the right trigger, leaving you to look around with the right stick and change direction with the left. Regardless of how you twist and maneuver, your character fluidly adapts to your every input.

Meanwhile, tapping X with the proper rhythm builds up your boost, allowing you to flit gracefully through obstacles and breach into the air if you speed toward the surface. Silly as that may sound, it's actually pretty exhilarating, especially when you can entice a school of fish to swim alongside you or get dolphins to flip and squeak almost as if they're playing with you.

Abzu is also more than a simple ocean-life simulator. As you push forward, you'll encounter several straight-forward exploration puzzles and even a few tense moments of action, but more importantly, you'll begin to dive deeper and deeper into the game's unspoken narrative. You'll uncover some strange yet adorable robots almost immediately and start to notice scattered ruins of an ancient civilization shortly thereafter.

The further you progress, the more exquisite the ruins grow, with gilded paintings, intricate tile work, and ornate, Moroccan-style windows hinting at some tragic past. Suffice it to say the game grows in some truly unexpected and borderline mind-blowing ways. Later areas and gameplay evolutions, though simple, prove remarkably affecting within the context of the experience, cleverly subverting expectations established by the game's earlier portions.

Of course, Abzu isn't perfect. The camera occasionally clips through larger objects, for example, and the mechanics walk a very fine line between minimalist and just straight-up simplistic. But these shortcoming are utterly inconsequential in the face of Abzu's countless artistic triumphs--like the music. The soundtrack shifts dynamically as you progress through the environments, stitching together various compositions on the fly to create a mood that matches your surroundings without explicitly calling attention to itself.

No Caption Provided

And that's not all. At certain moments, the camera slowly pulls back to communicate the overwhelming scale of certain creatures and environments. I swam eye to eye with a blue whale and have never felt more awestruck or insignificant in a video game. On another occasion, I emerged from a tight cavern and was suddenly enveloped by a vast, empty chasm with an endless darkness beneath me. Again, the deft camerawork turned an already memorable moment into something truly incredible.

Art exists to bridge a gap, to communicate emotions or ideas that would otherwise be impossible to articulate. Abzu does this--courageously, confidently, sincerely. Its stirring soundtrack, vivid colors, subtle storytelling, living world, and thoughtful execution combine to create a singularly moving, transcendent experience. In a word: Abzu is beautiful.

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The Good
Warm, inviting visuals
Stirring yet admirably restrained soundtrack
Highly interactive sea life
Enjoyable swimming mechanics
Remarkable sense of peace and tranquility
Engrossing unspoken narrative
Surprising growth and evolution within the campaign
The Bad
Gameplay feels slightly insubstantial
9
Superb
About GameSpot's Reviews

About the Author

Scott spent roughly four hours savoring his time with the admittedly brief Abzu, but he plans on playing through again as soon as possible. GameSpot was provided a copy of the game for the purposes of this review.
259 Comments  RefreshSorted By 
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Avatar image for luciann
luciann

I feel the games today are made for potheads. I mean I get the game to play for 30 min but after that omfg is so stupidly boring.

Avatar image for deactivated-58a613a89f5e9

@luciann: Just because you have a short attention span doesn't mean the rest of the gaming community does. Some of my faves this year have been little indies and more quirky games such as this.

Avatar image for feuerpsyche
FEUERPSYCHE

It´s a really nice game where story (and morals/ideology) are clearly in the focus. Gameplay mechanics can said to be reduced to diving (at least for about 99% of the game), exploring and solving easy riddles. And you can not die (oh, i tried to in a certain level). Plus: no fighting, no weapons.

And stil it´s a fascinating experience. There´s a point in the game where you will definetly get a little shock - today you might call it a "jumpscare-light". And, if you have at least a tiny little bit of emotions, there is a point where you will feel sad.
The evolving story is designed very vague. There is a lot of possibilities to interpretate. It´s a game, where you end it in front of the screen - but you keep thinking about the message(s) days after.

This is a perfect example of why you just can not rate games. If you can relate to what this game shows you, if you WANT to feel this "emotional part" and if you want to discuss afterwards - then you might easily rate it a 9.
If you are just looking for a hidden underwater weapon - then this might just be a 4 to you.

What can definetly be said - it´s a piece of art.

Avatar image for ArabrockermanX
ArabrockermanX

If this was $10 I could justify buying it, but honestly its not a video game and I don't see much entertainment out of this other than letting little kids wonder around it. Planet Earth is closer to what this competes against and it definitely doesn't match that experience.

Avatar image for ArabrockermanX
ArabrockermanX

Give me a harpoon gun, then I'll make this a video game.

Avatar image for Gencic
Gencic

Emotions with grace and ease? Translated into English: This game does not have a story-line.

No thank you.

Avatar image for salmon71
salmon71

Wouldn't 4k/HD video of this type serve the purpose better? If all you do is swim ...

Avatar image for eLite0101
eLite0101

Now imagine this kind of beautiful, gorgeous, artistic graphics within a computer game.

Avatar image for dmblum1799
dmblum1799

You can't shoot people? This game must suck!

Avatar image for naasum
naasum

no thanks. i've been around long enough to know that Gamespot is sucker for gimmicky indie games.

Avatar image for jakesnakeel
jakesnakeel

@naasum: So true!

Avatar image for mintfit83
Mintfit83

this reminds me of the Dreamcast Ecco the Dolphin Game.

Avatar image for xantufrog
xantufrog

@mintfit83: it definitely brings back memories of that setting. But be warned, the gameplay doesn't resemble Ecco at all (other than the fact that you swim)

Avatar image for kalarro
kalarro

Let me get this straight... the only gameplay element this "game" has, is exploration.... but it's a linear game. mmmh no thanks

Avatar image for c0mmanderKeen
c0mmanderKeen

Loving this. I think I'm about half way through, and it's been fantastic, really beautiful.

Interesting comments here as always, seems like people do not want our medium to evolve in different directions. You guys are like people in an art gallery complaining that the pictures don't move. Newsflash: not every game is for everyone. Move on and have fun.

Avatar image for ArabrockermanX
ArabrockermanX

@c0mmanderKeen: This isn't gaming... It has a place in entertainment, gaming isn't it.

Avatar image for c0mmanderKeen
c0mmanderKeen

@SJGSpook: Thank you for your valuable contribution.

Avatar image for janlappalainen
janlappalainen

This isn't a review, it's an advertisment - there is no critical analysis of the game, just poetic praise.

Avatar image for ArabrockermanX
ArabrockermanX

@janlappalainen: It is a proper review for what the product is, but the product isn't a game. The problem is people are trying to define anything that uses a controller as a video game.

Avatar image for butterworth
butterworth

@janlappalainen: Sometimes that's what a game deserves.

Avatar image for flexy456
flexy456

Watched/skipped the video while making tea. Am already bored to tears. Sorry.

Avatar image for xantufrog
xantufrog

Well, I started playing this today and I can confirm: it is just gorgeous and wonderful.

If you played Flower and thought it was a short, lame "wind simulator" - don't touch this.

If you played Journey and thought it was a short, lame "floating simulator" - don't touch this.

If you think snorkeling or a day at the Aquarium is a snooze - don't touch this.

So far, the game is ludicrously relaxing, you learn the names of the animals you see, and you just... swim for the sake of exploring and seeing what is around the next bend. There's an emergent, wordless story being told as well, but really this is stripping gaming down to the bare metal and building back up saying "what qualities make a game relaxing? what qualities about an environment make a person irresistibly drawn to see what is around the next bend? how can we put a little magic in front of your eyes that just makes you smile?"

Have to go to work now... and I wish I could just keep playing.

Avatar image for butterworth
butterworth

@xantufrog: Solid advice.

Avatar image for pedal2metal214
pedal2metal214

I really liked the review Scott. It's clear the game really impacted you beyond just being entertaining & that came across nicely in the review. I think that's an intangible factor that few games have & it's great to see a reviewer with the depth to appreciate & articulate that. I found myself thinking of Ico as I listened to the review.

I can't explain it but the PS franchise has always seemed to nurture a more eclectic library of games than the Xbox franchise. I have both systems & enjoy both thoroughly but that's just my observation over the years (PS2, Xbox onward). Abzu sounds like something special.

thanks again.

Avatar image for butterworth
butterworth

@pedal2metal214: Really glad you enjoyed the review! Appreciate you taking the time to leave a positive comment.

Avatar image for 93ChevyNut
93ChevyNut

This looks more like a fantastic screensaver than a game.

Avatar image for mirage_so3
mirage_so3

This review confuses me. He didn't seem to mention any gameplay at all other than swimming around looking at things. Seems to me this is more or less just something pretty to look at.

Avatar image for garfield
garfield

@mirage_so3: "Gameplay feels slightly insubstantial", read "there is no gameplay, hence a 9"

Avatar image for midloo
midloo

BOOOOOOOOOORRRRING!

Keep trying to convince yourselves this is an interesting experience.

Avatar image for Itzsfo0
Itzsfo0

@midloo: lol as if opinion will change the fact that this game is a great but brief experience thing is when someone who hasnt played it jumps to a incredibly simple thing like "keep trying to convince yourselves its interesting" I cant take them remotely seriously...my opinion is the only thing that concerns me when im playing a game ...theres no need for me to "convince" myself of anything lol what are we immature inpatient 16 yr olds who only find halo n forza interesting? Either a game is a dud or its quality and thats opinion merely subjective nothing more I enjoyed it cheap purchase and a brief but memorable title...hell the soundtrack alone was worth the price of admission but to each their own.

Avatar image for medafor
medafor

Wouldn't even call this a review. Five minutes of him describing how beautiful and gorgeous the game is. It's only a 4 hour game...

Avatar image for Skrilla_XS
Skrilla_XS

This is a 9?

Avatar image for garfield
garfield

I personally find the video review cringeworthy. A grown up man losing his mind on a interactive animation. This was not a profession review, this was a vlog from a YouTuber, found his favorite game of the month.

"Love you, guys, don't forget to like-and-subscribe."

Avatar image for SJGSpook
SJGSpook

@garfield: There is nothing professional about these bums. Sites like Gamespot and IGN remind me of reviews from national newspapers i.e they havn't got a clue what they are talking about.

Avatar image for Itzsfo0
Itzsfo0

@garfield: profession review....only thing cringeworthy is usually the comments section here a game is brief but enjoyable to many leave it up to the teenage comments section to spill negativity lol nowadays "salty" n "cringeworthy" todays slang/terminology ...shew.....lol I read the review what else is to be expected a detailed analysis of the diff schools of aquatic life in multiple additional paragraphs ? This simple read summed it up just fine....and as a gamer (I asssume) you would find someone w optimism who is excited and/or enjoys the game he played...even to the extent of some fond nostalgic childlike enthusiasm...oh right the hipster cool thing is deny everything bash it n dont show a glint of enthusiasm god forbid...lol after you've acquired some yrs an maturity n you know what you enjoy I wouldnt see this as a bad thing....lol oh right were only supposed to admire n get our rocks off on turning pages of literature or some art deco piece hanging in a gallery in some yuppie NYC art exbho. Besides in the end alll reviews of anything in arts & entertainment is merely subjective an opinion regardless of how well written. A cheap pride tag a soundtrack that alone warrants the price of admission if you ask me..brief but enjoyable...god forbid someone strays from being some boring plastic cookie cutter adult w no emotion n excitement lol people n opinions...ah now I remember why I usually avoid comments sections 99.9% of the time...eh to each their own though...

Avatar image for garfield
garfield

@Itzsfo0: Well, a day later, my post is hardly mature, for sure. But what I say, still stands - the (video) review is one-sided, and over-hyped, hence it is not professional. He should have been more open "what you get in the end", express at least some "concerns" and/or warnings to the readers, even if these are not his own "concerns".

I said he is like a hyped youtuber, but scratch that, youtubers I have watched for reviews are (at least at some point) miles, miles better then this one - gggmanlives, angry joe, worth a buy to name just a few. It is OK to have personal preference (and some hype, you are self ware of) but you have to think for the users(readers) first and look the game through their eyes (an wallet!) as well. The comment section would have been more calm then.

Avatar image for Itzsfo0
Itzsfo0

@Itzsfo0: besides ....I forgot that saying when you "grow up" the heart dies...if only more ppl had even 1/10th of an actual imagination n excitement (hell for anything) nobody does though...without it you might as well be dead

Avatar image for bobbo888
bobbo888

@garfield: where did you find this info? i didn't see anything about this being a youtube review.

Avatar image for thereal25
thereal25

Kinda feel like I've already played it by just watching the 12 minute preview.

Avatar image for tehmoonstar
TehMoonStar

I don't understand why everyone gets so upset whenever these casual games receive higher scores. After all the times my wife has sat by watching me play games like Doom and Dark Souls, I love when games like Abzu or Inside can come along and give us an experience we can share together. Of course they're not as mechanically intricate as most other games, but the art style and atmosphere they convey bring people who normally aren't interested in "conventional" games into the community. If you don't enjoy more laid back experiences, no one is forcing you to read these reviews, but you don't have to crap all over them just because they don't suit your tastes.

Avatar image for BlazeKingz
BlazeKingz

@tehmoonstar: you awnsered your own question. your wife doesnt like gaming, she like pretty pictures.

This game gets high score beacuse the writer wants to make himself sound deep. And is not gonna stand up when compared to most triple A titles that get 7's and 6's because they were made by big companys

Avatar image for SJGSpook
SJGSpook

@tehmoonstar: They are mediocre at best that's why.

Avatar image for WetVein
WetVein

Kinda glad to see those black bars on the screen while the reviewer is meditating... i thought my game was glitching. I truly hope its a bug, they look like shit, and taunt me even when my eyes are closed.

Love the game thou. Everyone keeps mentioning "Journey" for obvious reasons.. but it actually plays (minute to minute) more like "Flower" to me. It's definitely a combination of both in the best possible way. This Matt Nava character sure knows his stuff. I wonder if he draws Overwatch porn in his spare time? Enquiring minds want to know.

Avatar image for Faye_Tallity
Faye_Tallity

Pfft. I don't know why people would buy a game, they know they wouldn't like! I can't believe some of you! Then they complain they wasted their money!? COUNTERINTUITIVE!!!

adjective

(of an idea, proposal, etc) seemingly contrary to common sense

There you go...

ABSORB some common sense.

Avatar image for VANGUARD003
VANGUARD003

Sigh. Another great indie game NOT ON XBOX. Goddammit Microsoft.

Avatar image for casswc
casswc

Game sucks, only a 9 outa 10

ABZU More Info

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  • First Released Aug 2, 2016
    released
    • Nintendo Switch
    • PC
    • + 2 more
    • PlayStation 4
    • Xbox One
    ABZÛ is an epic descent into the depths of the sea, where players will explore beautifully rendered ocean environments with fluid swimming controls.
    7.1
    Average Rating106 Rating(s)
    Please Sign In to rate ABZU
    Developed by:
    Giant Squid
    Published by:
    505 Games
    Genre(s):
    Adventure, 3D, Third-Person
    Theme(s):
    Fantasy
    Content is generally suitable for all ages. May contain minimal cartoon, fantasy or mild violence and/or infrequent use of mild language.
    Everyone
    Mild Fantasy Violence