Zip up those wetsuits folks, we’re going for a swim.
Abzu is a curious game. By which I mean it doesn’t ever offer real answers and asks you to trust a shark whilst you swim and splash around in varying states of the big blue.
You play in third person as an unnamed, possibly female but no-one seems sure, being. You start in the middle of the ocean and have little option but to DIVE DIVE DIVE. *cough*
Once underwater the controls are simple. Hold a button to swim, press another to boost and another to interact. Simple. Well, they would be apart from the camera and nature of diving. You see, the developers put effort into making the game feel like it should. I can do full loops underwater, I can leap out of the water like a dolphin and if I stop moving the water pushes me around gently. Doing all this required fiddly camera work on the side of the devs. I can work with it but I quite often found myself stopping and starting again.
Otherwise the game feels fairly intuitive and once you get a grip of the game, having some diving fun in the big blue is charming and peaceful.
For all that the endless expanse of water offers however, Abzu is surprisingly restrictive and linear. Swim too far away from the action and you will be pulled back. Each area has a puzzle that requires solving to move forward and there’s usually no reason to hang around unless you’re searching for the collectables. Yes there’s collectables. 3 types in fact, and none are necessary to finish the game. Most of them are easy to spot and you’re likely to come across them through playing anyway.
The linear nature of the game isn’t too much to it’s detriment. There’s not a lot to do other than swim around towards plot devices. Sure, you can sit on meditation platforms or hitch a ride on some of the larger creatures of the deep. But ultimately these are just screensavers – periods of reflection and relaxation. There’s no real threat to you directly and ‘the big bad’ isn’t until mid to late game, although it ever really poses any true danger as there is no “fail”. You just dust yourself off and dive again.
That’s where Abzu shines. It’s a game to wind down to, a game for leaving your worries to wash away for a while. You don’t have to think too hard, just follow the path and take your time exploring the ocean. Maybe you’ll make some friends along the way.
All of the images in this slightly soggy post are taken from Khinjarsi’s PS4 copy of the game. Sadly her asthma prevents her from ever scuba diving in real life, so this is as close as it gets. Splish Splash.