Like Journey, but Underwater

Gabriel Silvas, Columnist

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There is so much life, beauty, and mystery in the Earth’s oceans. Countless species both known and unknown call the varying depths their home and to see all of these different organisms together would be breathtaking. This is certainly the case for a nameless diver, who wakes up one day in the middle of the sea. Without seemingly any purpose of memories, the only thing they can do is dive and swim, experiencing everything the ocean has to offer. While it does appear as a calming and tranquil swim, a more intricate story begins to unravel, all without dialogue and told through gorgeous music and visuals. If this setup seems familiar, there’s a reason for that.

Developed by Giant Squid and published by 505 Games, ABZÛ is a game very much in the vein of thatgamecompany’s Journey, which does seem to serve as an inspiration, but also involves a couple of key members of Journey‘s team, namely Matt Nava as Art Director and Austin Wintory as Composer. Like its spiritual predecessor, ABZÛ focuses on a lone individual that wakes up one day with seemingly no purpose. However, as opposed to Journey‘s Traveler traveling to the Mountain, the Diver doesn’t immediately have a goal to achieve. Instead, it is just to explore the underwater environment they found themselves in and enjoy the scenery. Whereas the desert and ruins of Journey were long abandoned and have a sense of melancholy, ABZÛ is absolutely brimming with life. Numerous species of underwater organisms swim around and behave much like their real-world counterparts and bring with them that sense of wonder that comes with ocean exploration.

The Diver is a curious humanoid individual that seems to have a love for the life present in the ocean. All of its actions, from freeing wildlife, restoring dead areas, playing and riding with the larger fish, and meditating to watch the environment reflect this. As they travel, they can come across some drones they can repair to accompany them and open up some areas. About the only source of conflict comes in the form of a Great White Shark that briefly destroys one of the drones in the first chapter and then can be seen just swimming along the same path of the Diver, keeping to itself. However, by the later chapters, it becomes apparent that something much more sinister is present within this world and destructive traces of their existence become known.

The controls are very simple. There are buttons to dive and ascend through water, a button to interact with the environment, another dedicated to swimming faster, and one for doing small rolls and tricks. There are a number of shark statues within larger areas that allow the Diver to meditate and view the dozens of fish and other animals that swim around. When riding or viewing an animal, the name pops up in the corner, which is very useful in educating on just how many types of fish there are in the sea. In order to progress to some areas, tiny drones the Diver can repair are needed, but they do not really have any other function beyond that. Scattered throughout each chapter are a handful of shells to collect, which does give a reward once all of them have been found.

The game’s story is all told through its beautiful music and gorgeous visuals, leaving it up to the player to interpret what is happening and what the meaning of the game is. The game itself is rather linear in progression, but it encourages exploration and taking the time to just enjoy the scenery. It does not take long to finish the whole game, but the experience makes it seem much more meaningful.

ABZÛ is a lovely game that fans of thatgamecompany and other similar indie titles will enjoy. It is not too long, the art and music are wonderful, the controls are simple, and the experience is very calming and tranquil. The ocean might contain many unknown and, quite frankly, terrifying things, ABZÛ helps show the beauty of it all.