I first heard about ABZÛ not too long ago and was intrigued after finding out that the art director and composer from Journey, along with others who worked on the project had started their own studio and made ABZÛ their first project. The first question I had was, “What exactly is an ABZÛ?” Queue wiki, where an answer awaited:

  • In Sumerian culture

    In the city of Eridu, Enki‘s temple was known as E2-abzu (house of the cosmic waters) and was located at the edge of a swamp, an abzu. Certain tanks of holy water in Babylonian and Assyrian temple courtyards were also called abzu (apsû).Typical in religious washing, these tanks were similar to Judaism‘s mikvot, the washing pools of Islamicmosques, or the baptismal font in Christian churches.

    In Sumerian cosmology

    The Sumerian god Enki (Ea in the Akkadian language) was believed to have lived in the abzu since before human beings were created. His wife Damgalnuna, his mother Nammu, his advisor Isimud and a variety of subservient creatures, such as the gatekeeper Lahmu, also lived in the abzu.

    As a deity

    Abzu (apsû) is depicted as a deity only in the Babylonian creation epic, the Enûma Elish, taken from the library of Assurbanipal (c 630 BCE) but which is about 500 years older. In this story, he was a primal being made of fresh water and a lover to another primal deity, Tiamat, who was a creature of salt water. The Enuma Elishbegins:

    When above the heavens did not yet exist nor the earth below, Apsu the freshwater ocean was there, the first, the begetter, and Tiamat, the saltwater sea, she who bore them all; they were still mixing their waters, and no pasture land had yet been formed, nor even a reed marsh…

    This resulted in the birth of the younger gods, who latter murder Apsu in order to usurp his lordship of the universe. Enraged, Tiamat gives birth to the first dragons, filling their bodies with “venom instead of blood”, and made war upon her treacherous children, only to be slain by Marduk, the god of Storms, who then forms the heavens and earth from her corpse.

Well, color me interested! How would this apply to ABZÛ the game?  As I was to find out through my journey into the deep waters of an unknown ocean, Giant Squid Studios ably crafted a fitting tribute to the legends while creating some lore of their own in the process. However, as is said, the journey is often as important if not more so than the destination itself, and with ABZÛ, this cold not possibly ring more true.

Story

The story in ABZÛ is as much a journey of self discovery as it is an exploration of an ancient and lost world. Through various hieroglyphs, architecture, and ancient creatures found through the length and breadth of your journey, you find the remnants of a once great civilization. However, ABZÛ doesn’t hold your hand with its storytelling. Rather, the player (you) are left to seek out meaning as it best suits your sensibilities and love for a personal narrative experience. To me, this journey was about finding peace through observation, and the world specifically seemed like the lost land of Atlantis. You, a nameless diver/robot are quietly tasked with rebuilding this lost land that was clearly ruined and subjugated by an apocalyptic event. The beauty of a story like the one presented in  ABZÛ (and in its sort of predecessors, Journey, Flow, Flower) is that while some aspects of the story are clear, the rest is subjective and you can truly find your own story here. There is a strong resolution to the story, but revealing anything about that here would be revealing far too much. It is worthy of experiencing with no prior knowledge of what is to come.

8.5 out of 10

Gameplay

The gameplay was very good overall. ABZÛ is definitely a game that requires a gamepad to get the maximum effect, and the Steam product page recommends it directly. So, while you can use a keyboard and mouse, it is not recommended.

You will be underwater for the majority of this journey and will need to learn to swim. I didnt find this to be completely intuitive, as swimming is a twin stick affair. Initially, some of the controls will be inverted, but fortunately, the customization option is simple and an easy way to accommodate your preferences. That said, swimming will still be a trial and error deal for most. Once you get the hang of it, it becomes a seamless and awesome experience, but until that happens, ABZÛ can be frustrating. In addition to the twin stick camera and direction controls, you can also get a swimming speed boost, can roll to increase this boost, and as you get more familiar with the controls and your timing, you can string these together for limitless boosting of speed.

A popular and pleasing aspect of ABZÛ is your ability to breach, and as you get better at the controls, you can perform cool flips and such while breaching. Additionally, you can grab on to larger sea creatures, essentially riding them, and can also use them to perform awesome water acrobatics. This is an aspect of the game that has players coming back for more long after finishing the game.

You will find meditation statues to rest upon throughout your journey, and you can use this time to attach your mind to the various fish and other underwater critters in your area, travelling from on to another at will, and gaining a birds (fish) eye view of things. This is great example of how serenity is used as a gameplay aspect to grant you moments for introspection and at times, wide eyed wonder. The simple pleasure to be had with this gameplay aspect will also have you revisiting ABZÛ long after you complete the story.

For the most part, the other aspects of gameplay involve solving puzzles and interacting with objects to unlock or open up the next part of your adventure. There are some traps in certain sections of the game that you will need to try and avoid, and that is pretty much it as far as what you will be doing gameplay wise in ABZÛ.

I encountered zero bug, crashes, stuttering, or anything else that would break immersion. This was a seamless experience.

9 out of 10

Graphics

The graphics in ABZÛ were sometimes very much reminiscent of Journey (which is no surprise as the Art Director for that game is the founder of Giant Squid Studios), but at other times, the graphics far exceed those of Journey, and reach awesome new heights. ABZÛ is imaginative and creative in appearance, and you can never really tire of taking in the impressive set pieces and scenery that make this game the amazing experience that it is. Brilliant, lush colors, excellent use of lighting to emphasize emotion….this is brilliance incarnate.

9.5 out of 10

Sound

The audio for ABZÛ were all about emphasizing mood. This means that  throughout your time with ABZÛ, you will presented with music that drives home a sense of peace and/or wonder, adventure and mystery, and at times, tension and almost fear. Austin Wintory, another of the folks that came over after working on Journey, truly does amazing work in capturing the moment perfectly through innovative and imaginative compositions. There is an unspoken tale to be told, and Wintory’s music is as much a part of it as anything else in ABZÛ. I daresay that without his brilliance, ABZÛ would be but a shadow of itself.

10 out of 10

Verdict

ABZÛ is a game that will take you on an exhilarating adventure of body and soul. I rate this as a must own, must play game, and one of the premier offerings of 2016.

9.3 beings using echolocation to seek a path to greater understanding out of 10 possible