Platform: PC (Steam) / Playstation 4 (PSN)
Developer: Giant Squid Studios
Publisher: 505 Games
# of Players: 1
ESRB Rating: E (Everyone)
With so many indie games flooding the market these days worth checking out, a few of them have either dropped off my radar, are already on it but not out yet, or never landed there in the first place because keeping track of them all is a Herculean task with me as Sisyphus filling in for the duration. Giant Squid’s absolutely stunning ABZÛ fell into the first category partially thanks to me seeing who was behind it last year and thinking “Eh, it’s in good hands, so it doesn’t need me pushing it at all.”
Amusingly enough, that intentional ignorance worked out in my favor when I finally got to play the game last week when 505 Games bought it to NYC. I went in with no expectations other than thinking I’d get maybe an hour’s playtime in and enough impressions to write up a dandy hands-on post. A few hours later, I had to *force* myself to stop playing the game and make a graceful exit with my head filled with too many gorgeous images and a desire to see what the final two levels I’d left untouched held in store. Echoes of that Ecco the Dolphin on the Dreamcast and the underappreciated PS1 and PS3 Aquanaut’s Holiday games floated in my brain all the way back home, lasting until I got an email with review codes. Then, it was time to take a trip back under the sea and dream out loud again.
An incredibly beautiful, masterfully crafted and about as great as it gets game experience, ABZÛ soars to some impressive visual and aural heights as it takes you to deep places you’d never thought you’d go outside watching a nature program. You can call it a “spiritual successor” to thatgamecompany’s Journey if you like, but the single player focus and grander sense of scale makes this even more personal. This ‘Voyage to the Bottom of the “See”‘ has to me, a more grounded and pure emotional impact because of its blend of realism and fantastic elements grab you right from the start as the game takes you on a thrilling yet paradoxically mostly relaxing ride that changes in tone a few times before it ends.
As with Journey, it’s also a game that’s just great to watch someone play. Controls are simple, fluid and intuitive enough for anyone that can hold a controller (or use a keyboard and mouse on PC) can hop in and fully enjoy the entire game from start to finish. The replay value is also more than there as this is one of those games where you can hop into a map and actually have your character meditate serenely as assorted sea life does its circle of life thing all around you.