We first caught glimpse of Abzu at E3 2015 but weren’t able to get our hands on it. That changed this weekend, and we must say that this is another title to keep on your radar in an already crowded 2016.
Abzu is obviously nothing mainstream. You’re not going to see this game featured on many commercials, if any, but it’s also very possible for it to be critically acclaimed. 2012’s Journey set that precedent three years ago, and it looks like Abzu is likely to follow that same path.
In fact, it’s easy to compare Abzu to Journey, especially since Matt Nava (Journey‘s lead artist) is the game’s creator. So while it comes as no surprise that the game is all about the wonder of exploration, I have to admit that the most underrated feat about this game is the fact that the underwater exploration is tolerable.
All sorts third person games have mandatory underwater sequences such as Super Mario 64 and Rise of the Tomb Raider, and as revolutionary and great as those games are, the gameplay underwater isn’t really something you want to write home about.
I was afraid all the swimming would make me turn the other way when playing Abzu, and thankfully, it didn’t.
Abzu admittedly does have sort of a learning curve. It’s not like Journey where you can just sit down, seemingly already have an idea of how the game controls, and go from there. Abzu has you use both the analog sticks, and when you’re first getting into the controls, it’s not unusual to do some overtilting, making your diver swim weirdly. You can even press a button to do some underwater flips. I don’t know if that’s for anything more than just looking nice, but it must be there for a reason.
Once you take the minute or two to get used to the swimming mechanics, it’s all about doing what you want. From the demo, it can be assumed that while the game isn’t exactly an open world, you can really explore what you want at your leisure. There’s no oxygen gauge, so you don’t have to worry about dying due to lack of air or intense water pressure. And while there’s this great white shark that likes to be a nuisance, it doesn’t look like you can die in the game either–at least from what I played.
As for actual level progression, it’s really all about your exploration. There does seem to be a linear story, but the paths aren’t painfully obvious. You swim to certain areas because you want to, and if you come to a curious nuance, something happens. One example was using our sonar to interact with underwater drones, which not only follow you, but they also open paths to more areas you can explore. You can also make schools of fish follow you, and you can also ride on the backs of bigger aquatic creatures like manta rays.
I haven’t gone scuba diving before, and when Abzu comes out next year, it looks like I won’t have to.