I’ve always had a deep admiration of the ocean for all the obvious reasons; the smell of saltwater in the air, the sounds of the crashing waves against the shore, the feeling of wet sand squishing between my toes. But what I love most about it is how small it makes me feel. It’s a vast and powerful force of nature and each time I stand at its edges I can’t help but look out and wonder, who am I compared to all of this? ABZÛ, by Giant Squid, has captured all that wonder and more in its underwater exploration game and with the news that it’s coming to Nintendo Switch later this month I thought it was time to dive back into its awe-inspiring world.
ABZÛ, which roughly translates to “The Ocean of Wisdom”, is the story of a lone diver who wakes up floating atop the ocean’s surface. With no land in site the only path to follow is found by plunging down into the ocean's abyss. Players control the diver using simple and fluid mechanics through various underwater environments. While there is no spoken narrative, players will locate ancient ruins that help unfold the story of the diver as she unravels her own origins and her true purpose. The deeper the diver goes the more threats she’ll encounter as she tries to restore balance back to the ocean.
You’ll meet some robotic pals along the way who are equipped to help you with the few puzzles the game presents. These small electronic companions look like underwater cameras and help light the way or cut through barriers in order to continue your journey. But the true magic lies within the astonishing and immersive underwater environment of ABZÛ; it’s not just a single underwater level of a game, it is the entirety of the game. Swim with schools of fish, ride on the back of a stingray, or find a pedestal to sit and meditate on while taking in the brilliant oceanic world around you. With over 10,000 fish and hundreds of species it’s easy to feel small in this serene world. Personally I was partial to the brilliance of the eagle ray and my up close and personal encounter with a group of blue whales, but it was the special bond formed with a great white shark that stole the show.
The lack of a challenge can itself be a challenge if you’re expecting to battle enemies or solve overtly complicated puzzles. But ABZÛ is far from a button masher or brain teaser. There are no battles to be won and with your suit you’ll never have to stress about running out of air. As you immerse yourself deep within this underwater mystery you’ll experience a calmness wash over you. The main storyline only takes about an hour to complete but I spent well more than that just swimming around. There is no rush to get from one level to the next and outside of avoiding some underwater mines later in the game there’s plenty of freedom to explore the environment. The only thing hindering my progression and forcing me out of my meditative state were the load times between chapters. Luckily I had Austin Wintory’s whimsical melodies and original score to lull me back to my peaceful state of mind.
On the surface ABZÛ appears to be a minimalist game but its beauty is unparalleled. I never grew tired of swimming through lush kelp forests or watching the sun's rays dance across the ocean floor. Its message may not be explicitly clear but if you delve deep into the game and take the time to read the signs you’ll discover a remarkable and powerful narrative. Matt Nava, the Creative Director at Giant Squid said in his developer vlog that he, “wanted to create a game where everyone can experience wonder adventure and personal transformation, as I have, under the sea.” ABZÛ is vibrant, full of life and wonder, and an adventure you can't begin to grasp until you take the journey yourself. After completing the game I still feel small against the infinite ocean, but my heart feels full, and I think that’s worth something.
ABZÛ is currently available on PS4, Xbox One, and Steam and will launch digitally in the Nintendo eShop on November 29th. Pre-order now and you’ll save 10%.
Check out the trailer below: