E3 2016: Abzû "Evokes the Dream of Scuba Diving"

E3 2016: Abzû "Evokes the Dream of Scuba Diving"

Richard Walker

Sometimes, don't you just want to give up on the daily grind and head as deep into the ocean as you can possibly go? No? OK then. Abzû lets you pursue your own aquatic fantasy anyway, regardless of whether or not you've thought that perhaps things might be better under the sea. It's a game that "evokes the dream of scuba diving," according to Art Director Matt Nava, whose previous work includes art direction on Flower and Journey.

Since we first saw it last year, Abzû has changed quite a bit, packing in a far greater number and variety of sea life, with hundreds of real-life species and thousands of swirling schools of fish making up its vast underwater ecosystem. The volumetric lighting has also come on leaps and bounds, lending its environments both a beautiful and ethereal quality, as glittering sun beams penetrate the rippling surface of the water. It's really pretty.

As your diver acrobatically somersaults and pirouettes through the briny, the fish and other sea life react as you'd expect with their own emergent behaviour, and you can interact with various creatures in different ways. Consequently, Abzû is not only teeming with activity, but there's a proper food chain at work too, as predators chase prey and smaller fish get eaten by the bigger ones.

These larger fish can be ridden and you can steer them around, but if they get hungry, they'll disobey your commands as they go off hunting for their next meal. Abzû isn't an aimless swim 'em up, however, as you'll discover parts of the ocean where life is absent, the fronds of kelp have turned grey, the water is dark, and fish are nowhere to be found.

The key to returning life to these regions is by venturing into ancient and mysterious architecture, taking portals into a magical space where visions "bring forth spirit animals," Nava explains. It's a surreal element to Abzû that recalls visits to Journey's temples and strange, otherworldly places.

As you experience the vision, upon returning to the previously lifeless environment, you'll see it gradually return to life as Manta Rays (the spirit animal on this occasion), fish and jellyfish fill the screen, the grey kelp turning vibrant green as light cascades across the water.

Using your sonar to interact also prompts fish to follow you around, even diving out of the water alongside you, making you feel at one with nature, or something. Sonar also enables you to uncover lost hieroglyphs, revealing the last vestiges of a culture that once was.

Turning on your headlamp and digging up drones from the sea bed that follow in formation, you can also shed more light on the ocean's murkier depths, exposing even more surreal secrets and visions.

And as we happen upon a strange, triangular mechanical door, it slides open and we swim through to the next area, where more aquatic adventures await. Nava says these moments in Abzû will generate a "sense of fear", as you probe deeper into the unknown, encountering Great White Sharks and other fearsome sea life. Not that you're in danger of being ripped to shreds; Abzû's not that kind of game.

It's the kind of game that has a 'meditation mode', where you can find different statues and sit on them, watching the different species of fish and other sea life swim by, learning their names while you're at it. From the Goliath grouper to the Black Sea Bass and Five-lined Snapper (fish that live in the same kind of biome in real life), Abzû is bristling with life and colour that make it a place you'll actively want to spend time in. As relaxing, meditative and exploratory video game experiences go, Abzû looks set to be essential.

Abzû will be swimming onto PlayStation 4 and PC on 2nd August 2016.

  • Sounds like Journey: Underwater edition then, which is not a bad thing. For some reason I think this game would benefit from leaning more on photorealism. Oceans are beautiful things and while the art style is still nice, I don't think it could ever match beauty of actual deep see;-)
  • Abzû: Sharkbait Simulator
  • Is Scuba Steve in this also?
  • @1: We had a near photo-realistic scuba diving game on Wii, called Endless Ocean. While that was an awesome and very pretty game, I want to see what the different species of aquatic life look like in this art style. Which I love so much! Like you said, it looks like Journey underwater.
  • From the description it seems that developers put a lot of effort into research and environments. I wish the graphics reflected that. The cartoony style is cute and all but they could've done it more realistically.
  • Does anyone know if it'll have vr support come October? It should be a no brainier since unique and immersive games like this one, are perfectly suited for showcasing what vr technology is capable of. I mean, if the realism is up to par; then the idea of being able to scuba dive in various locales, and come face to face with a thousand different species of marine life........ Is the kind of thing that would entice a lot of people to go out and fork over $300-$400 for the headset.
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