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.