I got my hands on Abzu while exploring the E3 show floor. Developed by Giant Squid (which includes the composer and artist of Journey), players control a mysterious diver as they explore the depths of the ocean and uncover its secrets. The whimsical experience strikes the player with its calming beauty.
Surrounded by the hustle and bustle of the show floor, it’s amazing how quickly I was able to completely zone out in Abzu. Everything from the serene soundtrack to the calming sounds of the ocean current caused the world around me to melt away completely, sending me into a peaceful, almost zen-like state. Interestingly, mediation plays a role in gameplay. The diver can meditate in certain areas, causing the camera to shift away and focus on the different sea life. Outside of using the analog sticks to switch the focus of fish, this state acts as a peaceful screensaver. I wouldn’t be surprised if mediation enthusiasts used this function in actual sessions.
Touring the sea as the diver feels graceful, performing elegant back-flips and twirls as I propelled myself through schools of fish and towering stalks of seaweed. The simple control scheme means anyone can dive in and explore with minimal learning curve. The right shoulder button propels the diver faster, and two face buttons to interact. The left shoulder button lets the diver grab a hold of larger creatures, which I made good use of to hitch a ride on a giant sea bass.
Even though swimming about and taking in the sights is enjoyable, the drive to explore hit me immediately. I descended into every nook in hopes of finding hidden treasure or elusive creatures. Objects designated with a floating icon can be interacted with. A small hole in the ground opened up into a glowing wellspring that sprouted glowing, eel-like creatures in a magical moment.
Early on in the game I located a downed robotic companion. Several of these machines are scattered around the seafloor, and activating them gives you an automated buddy to assist with different tasks. My companion cut down a wall of coral that led to a dreamlike area filled with ghostly pillars and an altar at the center. Interacting with the altar released a magical lock (represented by gorgeous imagery such as a ballet of manta rays) that opened a nearby gate.
As I entered the next area, a great white shark immediately assaulted and destroyed one of my robots. It was a jarring but effective reminder that danger still lurks in this peaceful world. After lying low until it swam away, a massive and elaborate gate beckoned me from the distance. Drawn to the giant red circle at the center, I swam towards it almost hypnotically. Once I reached it, my beacon caused the almost alien-like door to open before me. The demo concluded once I entered, so I’ll have to wait to see what mysteries lie beyond.
Pulling myself away from Abzu’s tranquility was an effort in itself. As someone who enjoys listening to the sounds of the ocean to unwind and loses himself viewing massive aquariums, Abzu is one of the most mentally pleasing games experiences I’ve encountered in some time. I look forward to kicking back and swimming with the fishes when it launches on PlayStation 4 and PC August 2.