Saturday, September 17, 2016

Abzu (Playstation 4, 2016)

Today I'm looking at what is essentially the sequel to Journey after some global warming and a Skynet takeover. While it wasn't produced by the same company, the same group of people worked on this game as Journey and it shows. This is more or less a spiritual sequel, and it's obvious enough that a lot of fans call it "Journey 2".

Whoa! Did I mistakenly buy Wind Waker HD?

The game begins with your character floating in the ocean. He and/or she is tiny, microscopic in the grand scheme of things. All we are is dust in the wind, man.

Here's our character for this one. Sorta looks like the character from Journey.

The best way I can describe the gameplay here is as a weird hybrid of Flower and Journey. You use the analog sticks to move ala Journey but you have full three-dimensional mobility ala Flower. You swim around and look at fish. It's relaxing.

The graphics are somewhat primitive, which is one strike against the game. There's a cel-shaded look to it but I'm not sure if it's technically cel-shaded. The level of detail isn't exactly high, regardless.

Despite the lack of detail, the graphics do excel when it comes to displaying lots of objects onscreen at once. All of these weeds are swaying and their leaves are moving independently. It's impressive on that front.

Lighting effects are good too. So what's the point of the game, you ask? It's a lot like Journey; you're moving along a mostly-linear path, activating switches with chirps. There's no multiplayer component here though.

I REPEAT: THERE IS NO MULTIPLAYER COMPONENT. Possibly Journey's biggest defining positive trait didn't carry over into the spiritual sequel. Big mistake.

The game consists of a series of six "levels". Each of the first four end with you finding a sphere and lighting up a different section of the hub room. After that you progress onward to the fifth and sixth. A stage select would have been perfect for the first four levels, but they have to be done in a linear order. After they're completed you can return to them at any time with a chapter select, at least.

Before long, you find some weird little machines that fly alongside you and emit light. These are basically keys and unlock various mechanisms.

There's also a recurring great white shark that keeps appearing to sass your character. I thought this was the Big Bad of the game, but...not quite.

This game is already linear, but a large portion of the game is completely linear. You'll run into currents that then proceed to drag you through a bunch of areas at high speed while you have little or no control. It happens often enough to make me feel like I'm playing a "content tour" type of game where I have little role in the decision-making process. Not really a fan of this design choice.

After getting whisked through some linear hallways, I find myself in another open area. The open areas comprise most of the runtime of the game, but they're still closed-in either by invisible walls or visible ones.


Looking at that one flipping in the middle, I feel like "Let's See You Dance, Sucka" should be playing.
There are meditation statues scattered throughout the game. They're one of several collectibles to be found. Land on one and you can steer the camera around to look at various sea-life in the area. It's a surprisingly interesting thing to do, even if it doesn't really have a point. Sometimes you find some cool creatures, like this humpback whale. Maybe this game transpires in our own future and we have this whale to thank for civilization's destruction by a giant space probe. Why didn't you answer it, you big blue bastard? YOU NAP WHILE EARTH BURNS!

My meditation is interrupted when I notice a nearby triangle. These triangular shapes appear all over the place in the world of Abzu.

The world isn't completely underwater, and you get some tantalizing glimpses of distant shores (that you can't reach).

I like these sun-lit golden areas. They lead to some ancient temples:

...which aren't that ancient, because they're in great physical shape. Whatever happened in this world, I think the murals tell the story. Can't figure them out myself though. They're (probably intentionally) very open to interpretation.

It looks like they built the giant triangles, which are...Skynet? From what I can tell they were displaced from land and became helmet-wearing ocean-farers even before they birthed Skynet.

These triangles are all over the place, and function as between-area least for now. Soon they get increasingly malevolent.

One particularly cool moment has you swimming with a whale and its junior. Unfortunately this moment is fully scripted rather than something that can spontaneously happen during gameplay. Maybe that's a good thing though, wouldn't want it to be easily missed.

Apparently the great white shark from earlier has been waging war on the triangles for some reason. This leads to his getting trapped under one of them until our hero saves him. Wait a can my character lift something this heavy? Unless...


Regardless, our character has a new friend. I think Skynet has eliminated the people, so now it's out to dominate the other ocean life. And the only man that can stop this shark.

Another collectible are the secret shells. While things like meditation statues and reflecting pools are out in the open and generally easy to find, the shells are carefully hidden in out-of-the-way places. They're also numerous, so this is almost certain to be the last collectible that the average Abzu player finishes.

I made sure to get 100% in this game just like I did with Fl0w, Flower, and Journey. Most of the achievements were for doing cool out-of-the-box things like holding onto a giant squid. The collectibles easily took the most time, especially the shells, which add some decent replay value to the experience. It's much-needed too, because without multiplayer the game just isn't as replayable as Journey.

Things take a turn for the dark and Metroid Prime esque as I find a massive triangle. The interior is the fifth area of the game, and completely different from the rest.

It sorta resembles a crashed ship. I half-expect Metroid music to start playing.

This is the only part of the game with the color red in it, and it's both dominant and menacing.

There's some kind of factory in here where machines are being assembled. They look vaguely like my character's head.

This hologram is definitely my character. At this point they're beating the audience over the head with the fact that this guy is indeed a robot.

There are smaller triangles in here that function as mines and detonate when you get close. This zaps your character pretty harshly, but as far as I can tell it can't kill you. Much like the rest of the series, this is a death-less game. In Fl0w you could get knocked back a bit in progress if you took damage, but that's about it.

Here's one of the most enduring images from the game. Protecting the ship's core is a huge minefield that at first looks insurmountable.

The good news is that the mines are farther apart than they first appear.

Get past all of that and you find the core. The red eye isn't initially visible, and opens at your approach. Skynet has never looked more menacing.

My shark friend proceeds to assault Skynet, only to have both of us get pulverized with lasers. Well, this game suddenly got horrifying.

The character wakes up and is now an endoskeleton, having had the top layer of its body burned off. Time to pick up the pieces.

Alas, the no more.

The next part has you walking on land for the first time as you hit more switches to progress. This looks like something out of Prince of Persia.

This waterfall hides an antechamber with a secret shell. It's pretty cool the way the water creates bubbles and foam.

The sheer amount of things moving onscreen continues to be the most impressive thing about the game.

Another shell is found in this very cool grotto that I never would have found had I not gone out of my way looking for shells.

An Atlantis-esque city follows, but unfortunately you can't explore it because the game whisks you through it at high speed.

Possibly the most impressive effect in the entire game is this swirling school of fish. I don't even know how many of them there are, but they swirl and spin in synchrony with no slowdown or framerate loss. It's pretty insane.

After a while, I find an energy sphere that restores my outer layer AND resurrects the shark.

Jesus Shark is back and ready for action, immediately leading the charge. SKYNET WILL FALL TONIGHT!

More ethereal, sunlit areas follow. This is the equivalent of the endgames of Flower and Journey where you found yourself rising from your darkest moment with new super-power.

I take a moment to do synchronized leaps with the shark.

Other than that, this final area consists of you barrelling through Skynet pyramids and shattering them with your freakish power. The shark has the same aura of invincibility.

There's an iceberg hidden right before the end with a large colony of penguins hanging out on it. This place is awesome. They're all just kinda doing stuff and it's peaceful.

Peaceful despite the presence of the sleeping murder-machine that is POLAR BEAR! EVERYBODY RUN!

Another trophy is gained by riding a whale and prompting it to leap out of the water. There are a couple of secret shells in this final section that require very difficult jumps to get to, and they're probably the highest point of the game's challenge level.

Leading a pack of Resistance Fish, we charge Skynet HQ once again.

The minefield is now no match for our heroes, as they sail through it with impunity. Each pyramid explodes as they fly past it.

Pretty soon this scene turns into a display of pyrotechnics as the mines blow up like a storm of fireworks. It's a little overdone, but I'll take it because they hassled me so much earlier.

After building up enough speed they fly right into the Skynet core, which then explodes in a glorious flash of electric power. TAKE THAT, SKYNET!

And...ah...that's the game. It looks like our hero and his shark are now swimming peacefully in the blue sea.

This was just a surface-level (heh) look at the game. I suspect there's a deep (har) story being told here, and I intend to figure out what it is sooner or later. After playing it, I suspect the most obvious answer is the correct one: This is the world after some kind of catastrophe involving machines/AI and rising ocean levels.

Is it our world, though? That I can't tell.

1 comment:

  1. I never could adjust to the motion controls in Flower, so this may be more up my alley.

    Gracie will answer it when she's good and ready!

    Beautiful looking game, thanks for this chance to see it.