Abzu is a weird one. On the one hand, it tells a story and has a coherent narrative. On the other, the story is so abstract and symbolic that it lies on the borderline of unspecific, therefore, essentially unimportant. On the one hand, there is gameplay that demands from the player something more than just moving forward and even has some puzzle-like elements. On the other—it’s so basic and straightforward that it lacks even a minimal challenge, therefore, essentially unimportant.
Of course, the audio-visual ensemble is what actually matters here. But one can wonder—how far can we go with amplifying the audio-visual component while weakening the gameplay and storytelling aspects and still consider an overall experience a game? Where is the line between a game and a spectacle? Well, this is it. Abzu is the line.
Magnificent music works in tandem with stylistic visual direction to create breathtaking scenes of underwater life among the ruins of a long-lost civilization. These scenes flow into each other with a fluid grace entirely suitable for the aquatic setting. The minimal aspects of this game that allow it to remain a game aren’t just some glorified playback controls of a DVD player—they’re not a mere tool of pacing control. Straying away to inspect the surroundings or taking time with puzzle solving will not stop or pause the spectacle—the ocean continues to dance around the player. The player is the one that shapes, frames, and controls in what manner each scene is experienced and how long it lasts until giving a cue to continue the flow.
Roughly an hour into the game, I remembered the experience of watching The Undersea World of Jacques Cousteau in childhood. It was like peaking under the veil into an unknown mysterious world. But in contrast to the classic documentary television series that lasted almost a decade, Abzu is not narrated by Rod Serling and must be a very short experience to work.
The game is roughly three hours long. I think it should have been even shorter—it’s imperative to experience Abzu until the end in one sitting, so an hour and a half tops would be perfect. But if you fall into ‘the zone,’ you’ll survive this three-hour session, albeit with occasional drops in the game’s magnetism.
I wouldn’t call Abzu an essential experience. No, it’s not one of these games that everyone has to play. You won’t miss anything significant from the theoretical understanding of the gaming medium either. Abzu is just a small beautiful art piece, marvelous in itself, like one of hundreds less known paintings in the Louvre—the one that’s not placed under glass and doesn’t attract hoards of tourists.
One response to “[Cleaning the Backlog] Abzu”
[…] Abzu showed us beautiful, majestic, mesmerizing, and relaxing aspects of the ocean. But it lasted for only a couple of hours. Do you know why? Because it’s a lie! The ocean is freaking scary, unnerving, dangerous, and maddeningly terrifying. I’ve played Subnautica for dozens of hours and came to the only conclusion someone in the right mind can reach: we should boil it! Boil the hell of this wet abyss, burn the remains, bury the ashes, and then nuke the burial place several times! This is the only way. […]