Capsule Review: ABZÛ

An exploration game roughly in the vein of Flower or Journey. Play as a diver swimming through underwater caverns and submerged ruins. There’s no dialog and gameplay consists mostly of navigating a beautiful environment against an emotive soundtrack. The star of the show is the sea life - hundreds of real-world species of fish, turtles, whales, and more lovingly rendered with up to several thousand individual creatures on screen at any given time. The game sets up multiple jaw-dropping moments the first time you see certain animals or groups thereof.

Movement works quite well, though keeping a clear vertical orientation means that there can be some awkwardness around swimming straight up or straight down since the camera won’t align behind you. You don’t often need to do that, however, and generally it’s very easy and natural to get where you want to go. The few moments when you have to surface and walk around a bit end up feeling awkward and limited by comparison, serving as a reminder of just how much freedom of movement you have underwater, and diving back in is always a relief.

While the game is mostly a series of beautiful and relaxing playgrounds and set pieces, there is a narrative that draws thematically from Mesopotamian creation myths referencing divine life-giving waters. Unfortunately, things don’t fit together well and the message gets muddied. The player character looks like a human in a diving suit and encounters real-world sea life and some robotic diving lights which implies a modern realistic setting, but then ambiguously magical things start happening and it’s not clear how or why. The backstory is conveyed through ambiguous murals on the walls of the ruins and several important events and mechanics are left unexplained. While it’s obvious the overall message is about technology working in harmony with nature, the actual story and rules are unclear to the point of seeming to contradict themselves. This makes it difficult to remain emotionally involved, and makes the game a more disposable and forgettable experience than it should have been. You swim through the ocean and see some beautiful and weird stuff, but it doesn’t add up to anything solid - the whole is less than the sum of its parts.

I Stopped Playing When: After two hours, I finished the game and saw the credits. I didn’t go back for the collectibles I’d missed.

Docprof's Rating:

Three Stars: Good. I liked the game enough to finish it (or just play it a bunch, for games that don't end). I recommend it to most genre fans.

You can get it or learn more here.