Imagine discovering an ancient world plenteous with relics, ruins, ghost-haunted installations, and hidden temples—all underwater. Thus is born ABZU, the underwater exploration game found on the E3 floor this year. The ABZU booth this year was an eye-catcher nestled just outside of west hall in the Los Angeles Convention Center. ABZU is published by 505 Games and developed by Giant Squid, the latter of which is helmed by Matt Nava, gaming veteran. Many will recognize Matt's touch of developer genius from previous games like Flower and Journey. He carries the same level of professionalism into ABZU, which is best described as a gymnastic exploration into underwater depths.
Like Journey, ABZU pits you into the persona of an amphibious being without answering any questions. There are no distant irradiating mountains in sight. It's you and an underwater city equipped with a basic compass that points where you should go. That's it. The simplicity of Matt's design in these games is supreme, to say the least. The game relies on instinct and a few images to guide the player into beginning explorations, rather than tutorials, videos on travel, manuals on game functionality, menus of instructions, and a myriad of controls to map onto a PS4 controller. It's Journey under water, but a lot, lot more. The underwater design is nearly therapeutic, if not downright fun. It's akin to feeling like you're swimming along with dolphins with minimal effort—a lifelong dream I'd like to fulfill alongside self-propelled interstellar flight and the ability to read minds.
Wishful superpower thinking aside, Journey fans can recall the loose narrative woven into the game that's highly nebulous—it's nearly up to the player or viewer to decide what it means. There aren't many details currently on what kind of narrative we'll see in ABZU, but we're betting the game will approach a narrative similar to the previous games that Matt Nava has been behind as Creative Director.
Our play session took us to seaweed-laden ruins where little scanning robots accompanied the character. Unfortunately, a shark snatched one up and we were left wounded internally—our robot buddy was gone! The demo level gave us clear expectations—much like the exploratory games beforehand, players can expect to see wonder, danger, suspense, thrills, and a myriad of curious things in this underwater world. The best part is it's releasing August 2nd on the PS4 and PC. Unfortunately, no VR plans. Stay tuned for more ABZU.