Few environments are quite so daunting for a game as the ocean. So far removed from the land that it lacks the familiarity of human settings, so far removed from space it lacks the sense of adventure, it can all too often seem like a barren, empty waste. It's often treated as secondary to any land environments at the best of times, and only a key few can truly get it right. ABZÛ is the latest and one of the brightest of those few, eclipsing even the likes of Subnautica in its sheer beauty.
Comparisons to Journey are inevitable here, thanks to both the artistic direction and the team involved. People are bound to ask which is better, but it is hardly so simple a question. Whereas Journey enticed players with a bright and surprisingly vibrant wasteland, ABZÛ instead shapes its identity through overwhelming wildlife. Every square inch of this game is teaming with fish of all sorts, from small scale squid to vast basking sharks, giving the sense of a vast realm overrun with life. There is honestly no single place which seems intended for players to merely rush through, and Giant Squid have taken serious time and effort to make each location stand out.
Perhaps the best thing of all is that ABZÛ doesn't outstay its welcome. It's intended to be short, and a single run will only last roughly four hours at the most, but it makes up for that with surprising replay value. While nothing dramatically changes each time, there's a sense of exploration which keeps you wanting to know more, and coming back to see if you missed something. This definitely helps the experience substantially, as the core story itself is sadly minimalist to a fault.
The puzzles themselves once more make up the core gameplay, proving to be mind-bending and engaging in the best way imaginable. Trying to work with them often requires approaching a task from a completely different viewpoint than usual, or will even require you to unlearn previous lessons to overcome them. While puzzle platformer veterans will likely breeze through this, it at least offers enough of an uphill battle to keep you engaged and on the right path.
There really is very little to seriously criticize with ABZÛ. The game utterly nails the right mix of atmosphere and hints of a larger story lurking just out of sight. While it might repeat a few of Journey’s core themes, there is more than enough here to prevent this feeling like some cheap rehash with a fresh coat of paint. If you’re seeking an aquatic zen alternative to typically violent games, look no further than ABZÛ.
/ DEVELOPER: GIANT SQUID / PUBLISHER: 505 GAMES / PLATFORM: PC, PLAYSTATION 4 / RELEASE DATE: OUT NOW