ABZU Preview - A Dream Version of Scuba Diving

By Steven Santana

June 19, 2016

Actual scuba diving can be a pain. You have an air gauge to keep track of, water pressure levels to worry over, and heavy gear attached to your back. In ABZU, an upcoming underwater adventure game from Giant Squid, all of these worries are done away with and the player is free to explore the wonders of the sea.

Instead of controlling a slow and burdened body, you are an acrobatic and agile diver. This is the adventure you wish you could go on, free from the limitations of reality. The world of ABZU is populated by hundreds of species of fish, which are all based on actual schools that exist now. They interact dynamically with each other, as well as the diver. Their movement and animations are based on a simple ruleset that was designed and based on the patterns in schools of fish.

Due to the focus on fish behavior, there is also a predator/prey system with the fish, where larger ones will get hungry and gobble up some in the small schools. You can even ride the larger fish and steer them, though if it gets hungry it’ll take over and consume. You might even find yourself being eaten if a larger fish takes in yours as a meal.

As the diver, you can ride on larger fish, or interact and cause smaller schools to follow you as you twist and twirl through the water. If you are truly skilled, you can even cause the fish to jump out of the water with you.

The first area was a bright and colorful expanse of somewhat shallow water. You could freely swim in and out of kelp, follow along with schools, or make your way to the surface and take in the sights. The game is gorgeous, even more so than when I last saw it at PlayStation Experience. The beginning area had also been redone a bit, and the water for the title screen now featured transparency and distorted reflections.

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Drones you discover on the sea floor and repair. will follow you around and allow for progression in certain areas, opening up barriers. They might not stick around for long, as the one in the demo was quickly attacked by a great white shark once we made our way to the next major area.

This new expanse was darker, more imposing, especially given that it houses a great white shark. You can swim down to the bottom still, and among the darkness that you light up with a headlamp will be secrets and hints as to the overall narrative. These light story elements are also supported by hieroglyphics that you will pass by during the course of your adventure.

We eventually entered a darker room, where no fish swam and the kelp was thin and unmoving. Here we interacted with a glowing object, which brought us into a vision. Inside it, spirit animals moved around, and opaque architecture formed a sort of structure you entered. When you finish the vision, it causes life to once again enter the room, illuminating it, coloring it, and introducing ocean life.

You can even meditate on top of a shark statue, which allows you to follow the fish that surround you, learning their names and maybe even seeing them get eaten. Proceeding onwards. we encountered a large triangle door with a robotic eye that tracked our movements. Interacting with it, we opened the pathway and made our way towards the next major area, which is where the demo ended.

Throughout the presentation, Austin Wintory’s soundtrack played in the background. It matches the contemplative nature of the game perfectly, acting as subtle background noise tuned to the ambient ocean life. The game, much like Journey before it, appears to rely on mystery and gorgeous environments to keep the player’s interest keen. At the same time. it is radically different, full of colors and life  that Journey never tapped into because of its desert setting. The ocean life has its own set of wonder and danger, as well as a relaxing atmosphere. I am very excited to spend time with this game, when it launches on August 2, 2016 for PlayStation 4 and PC.

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Steven Santana

Born in Queens, raised in Vegas, living in Vancouver. 25, loves dogs, Uncharted 2: Among Thieves, and long form video critiques.

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