GammaSquad Review: ‘Abzu’ Is Like The Ocean, Beautiful Yet Empty

Senior Contributor
08.02.16

There is arguably no greater joy in video games than exploration. Looking around a beautifully designed virtual world and finding all the secrets it contains has been a mainstay of gaming since the days of the NES. And while Abzu carries on some of that tradition, ultimately, as beautiful as it is, it’s just a bit too slight.

Abzu (PS4 And PC)

Artistic Achievement

Setting a game under the water is a tricky thing in terms of both art direction and physics, but Abzu delivers an absolutely gorgeous experience. Everything in the game looks great, with a Wind Waker-esque feel. You’ll swim through a series of lush environments teeming with life and color, and the score is a lovely, soothing, fully composed and conducted set of music from noted composer Austin Wintory. Everything about this game, graphically and sonically, is just so, and it’s likely going to take home a few awards as a result.

Innovation

You swim and find things, pretty much. It’s not earth-shaking stuff, gameplay-wise, which quickly becomes a problem.

Execution

Probably the nicest touch in the game is the dialogue-free storytelling. Everything you learn about the plot, you learn from observing the environments you swim through and what happens to your character during the course of the game. While there are a few details it would have been nice to learn more about — as the game has some broad hints about just who you really are, right down to the origin of the title — it’s a well-crafted bit of game design.

Unfortunately it’s also one of the few bits of game there is. There’s a lot to love about Abzu as a work of art, but as a game, it’s a bit too thin. The “puzzles” largely come from the “go here and click on this” school of gaming. They’re not terribly hard to figure out, and the game doesn’t push itself or its environments very far. There just aren’t a lot of mechanics here, and despite the well-balanced number of collectibles, the game comes off as too slight for its own good.

Staying Power

Not helping matters, on the playability front, is that Abzu is a short game. We knocked it out in a hair under two hours, exploring in detail for the collectibles. Some of those collectibles are pretty hard to find, of course, but this isn’t going to eat up your gaming schedule.

Bullsh*t Factor

Some may find the price of $20 a bit high for what you get, gaming-wise, but there’s no DLC or other microtransactions to deal with.

Final Thoughts

Abzu is, in some ways, a beautiful and well-designed piece of art, but many of the accusations surrounding the “walking simulator” genre hang a little too well around  the game’s neck. That said, if you want something short and pretty, this is a good choice for the August doldrums.

Verdict: Worth A Chance

This review was conducted with a PS4 review copy provided by the publisher.

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