E3 2016: Settling in for Some Net-fish and Chill With Abzu
There's something dreamy about the world under the sea. While it is a very real place, the ocean is a relative unknown to many. Unless you're a diver or a marine scientist of some sort, there's a good chance you haven't seen much of what's lurking and living beneath the waves. We don't always need to travel to another planet to experience an alien world; we have one right here on Earth that's dying to be explored. That's just part of what makes Abzu such a wondrous experience. Living under the sea --- without the restrictions of actual scuba diving --- swimming with the fish and observing all the ocean's wide expanse has to offer is coupled with a great mystery of a lost civilization only you can solve.
Abzu's been in development for some time now, but this latest build shown at E3 showed Giant Squid has almost gotten all its pieces into place. Previously, the elements of the game shown off were just the unique, stylized world under the water and the swimming mechanics. All of those elements were again present last week, but this most recent demo also included a number of new features Giant Squid has been waiting to show off.
This game is definitely just as gorgeous as it's been every step of the way though. If its art style is at all reminiscent of another exploration game called Journey, it's for good reason. Giant Squid was co-founded by thatgamecompany's former art director, Matt Nava. His stylish sensibilities are on full display in Abzu, which actually came about due to his love of scuba diving. Nava wanted to share that passion through games, but without forcing people to concern themselves with the real-life practicality. Abzu is a smooth swimming simulator that allows you to take in all the grandeur the sea has to offer. It is still Giant Squid's version of the sea however, so that beauty might be cherry-picked and amplified just a bit. Not that we're complaining.
To balance all the awe-inspiring visuals, Abzu will also let you reach some of the ocean's darker depths. The way the light from the sun is distilled all the way down is just amazing, and it's easy to overlook just how great the lighting is in Abzu. While there are some liberties taken with brightness, the game does provide a strong sense of abandoning the familiar as you submerge yourself. The closer to the ocean floor you get, the more intense the feeling, though there are not fatal elements in Abzu. That's just how strong the world design is here. You feel a slight sense of unease and dread despite a lack of possible threats. Oh, there'll be sharks and some other marine life, but they're just natural citizens of this wild world. Abzu isn't a game where you'll need to fend for your life.
It wouldn't be unfair to call Abzu a bit of a meditative experience, but that's not its primary focus. There will be moments of quietude on the ocean floor thanks to a series of statues scattered throughout the game. When you find them, you'll be able to sit down and merely watch the hundreds of fish and animals swimming around in their native environment. And the kelp; oh how there will be kelp forests for miles in any direction. Combined with the serene musical choices, it's not hard to see how relaxing life in Abzu's ocean can be for players. But there is much to explore, and there are mysteries to solve.
The driving force for exploration in Abzu isn't just trying to see all the different creatures included, it's to uncover the truth behind the mystical architecture you uncover on your journey. These elements were always part of Abzu, but weren't present in any of the previous gameplay demos we took part in over the past year. As your diver discovers these areas, she'll help bring back life to a strangely dead area of the sea. There are some hieroglyphs that relate a wordless story about a civilization apparently long gone, which again echoes some of the elements you might recall from Journey. Abzu is solely a single-player experience though, and is more about how you interpret this world than it is discovering new twists alongside other players.
We've been fascinated with Abzu since the first time we got to try it out, and seeing how far it's come since then only has us more invested in the final release. It's a vibrant game with some spectacular scenery, and it's got just enough of a pull to it to keep it engaging. Relaxing games are nice, but Abzu offers enough interaction beyond sitting and swimming with the wildlife to keep you on your toes. While we've only seen but a glimpse of what lies beneath, we can't wait to dive deeper into Abzu's world later this year.
Abzu is due out this year for the PlayStation 4 and PC.