The Joy of belonging in ABZÛ

In ABZÛ, you play as a diver who is exploring the sublime and vibrant depths of the ocean. As you dive further down you heal and restore areas that have mysteriously decayed and help bring back their natural beauty. It’s a wonderful and emotional game that can turn even the clunkiest of players into a graceful aqua-dancer. Yet while moving through ABZÛ’s world makes you familiar with it, it is when you stop and absorb the surroundings that you start to get a sense of belonging.

Matt Nava’s art direction (who also worked on Journey) has given ABZÛ its fair share of spectacular, artful sequences: being swept away by a speedy water current, exploring mysterious dark caverns, and gliding effortlessly alongside a pod of gigantic whales, just to name a few. But what made me fall in love with the game were its calm and peaceful moments. ABZÛ is unusual in that it actively invites you to slow down, sit and quietly watch its beautiful world.

In each area there are meditation rocks that have been carved into shark heads which, when approached, invite the player to sit and… well… just sit. When you swim up to one, a little symbol pops up which welcomes you to rest. These meditation rocks have been placed in the world’s aesthetic sweet spots, allowing you to gaze at ABZÛ in all its glory. Being whisked through beautiful environments is fun and thrilling, but the world has more to offer when you stop and look.

The game’s underwater world directly reacts to your actions, but it also has a life of its own. The fish and plant life follow the same procedural rules that they would in reality. ABZÛ captures the constant state of movement that is present in marine environments, which makes sitting and watching its world captivating. Everything continues to move even when you become still.

It’s possible to stop moving and look around in most games, but the ability to sit down while you do so makes it an active choice to be inactive. The meditation rocks encourage the player to be at ease, relax and enjoy the world. You are not treated as an outsider or enemy, you can stay and sit for as long as you like, nothing is pushing you on or nagging at you to move to the next part of the story. Nothing is worse in a game than when a prompt pops up -“Oi! You! You need to go over there!” Yeah, I know, but could I have some time to look around a little?

There are no prompts, or any dialogue, in ABZÛ. The story is about a diver discovering where they came from, what happened to their people and, ultimately, where they belong. The game answers this final question without exposition; it simply makes you feel like you belong. When I decide to stop and sit on these meditation rocks I feel as if the game is welcoming me, it’s an intimate moment between myself and the game world.

18 Comments

  1. geldonyetich says:

    Looks pretty fishy, in that order. Jokes aside, though, looks like a rather gorgeous walking swimming simulator.

  2. DoomBroom says:

    Another game/experience I wish I could play in VR…

    • Kefren says:

      There’s some support via VorpX, but like most 3rd person games the FOV can seem too close.

      I got refunded for Abzu after hassles with Denuvo (the Steam page didn’t flag it up as including that crud).

  3. Da5e says:

    I bounced off Abzu, hard. Journey is one of my favourite pieces of art in any media, so I went into Abzu expecting more of that emotional impact, and it just seemed to be swimming about with no real direction and some opaque puzzles. Maybe I should fire it up again, dunno.

    • and its man says:

      Don’t hesitate, give it another go.
      Water offers more movement options, which can be disorientating at first, and may give the impression that it’s not gonna be a voyage as smooth and cozy as Journey.
      A bit like going out for your first EVA in Kerbal Space Program. Feels awkward but you can accomodate quickly.
      It’s a beautiful game, very on par with Journey.

  4. Jay Load says:

    ABZU is the sequel to that old DirectX “tour de force” fish tank screensaver from the 1990s, and I love it just as dearly.

    More games should simulate living ecosystems. It’s a deeply under-explored phenomenon that I’d love to see in gaming more often, especially if that ecosystem was prehistoric or a digital version of Blue Planet…..

  5. Soyweiser says:

    Abzu just reminds me of the metal band. link to youtube.com (Yes the band is called Absu, but they have an album called Abzu)

  6. Snids says:

    I played through this with my two boys and we were all completely captivated the whole way through.
    We were very invested in the heroic friend you make in the game. It’s actually making me a bit misty eyed…

  7. peterako1989 says:

    Bless you

  8. Monggerel says:

    The first time I saw the fish swim together with my little diver I was curious. I thought it was a cool little scripted event.

    But no, it happens every time you move fast around shoals of fish and I can’t even properly vocalize or label the distress I felt when I realized that this was the case. I saw myself like some absurd corrupting influence ripping into something fragile and beautiful, dragging along a school of beautiful idiot fish to some vague and awful fate.
    *shudder*

    Now Bloodborne, that’s my kinda game though. Messily murdering the great mysteries of the Cosmos without even the cursory politeness of learning how to pronounce their names, that’s a-ok with me.

  9. Danda says:

    This game is beautiful. And a pleasant surprise, as I played it with no expectations. (All the hype surrounding Journey made me enjoy it less than other people…)

  10. SaintAn says:

    I didn’t know anything about it, played it for a while, and it made me start crying. No idea why.

  11. Premium User Badge

    Ninja Dodo says:

    When you tag along with a sea creature in this game you can steer and twirl them. You’re welcome.

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