Monday, 10 July 2017

Review No. 131 Abzü - PC (7+)

Strong Points:
Amazing art style
Superb orchestration
The water
Fish AI
Good story
Great set pieces

Weak Points:
The mine sections, later on, broke the original atmosphere a bit
Some control and camera issues
Your character doesn't always do what you want it too
Grabbing hold of a fish sometimes doesn't work
Lack of animations when interacting with certain objects

Some spoilers ahead:

In-depth Review:
Release Dates:
World Wide: August 2nd, 2016

Controls (controller):
Left Analogue Stick: move character
Right Analogue Stick: move camera
R2: dive
L2: grab hold of fish
Circle: trick
X: boost
Square: scan
Triangle: interact

I saw this game advertised a while back and having always been fascinated by the colourful oceans and fish, added it to my wishlist, waiting for a sale (I think the original price point of £12 could be seen as too steep). When the Steam Summer Sale rolled around I picked it up for a bit of relaxation from A-Levels and was pleasantly surprised by just how calming it could be. As my first foray into the calming Walking (or swimming) Simulator genre (I wouldn't count The Beginner's Guide as particularly relaxing), I found it ticked all the right boxes: great art style and orchestration, a vibrant world and a general sense of character. Of course, this all happened after I wrestled with the controls.

A controller is strongly recommended for this game, as it makes swimming feel slightly more natural, but still with both the camera and swimming inverted from the beginning, it took me a little time to try and adjust and in the end, I had to just change it so that the camera wasn't inverted. It would be nice if gaming companies would decide on a standardised camera, because I swear they change each game from GTA to Kingdom Hearts. Then after all of that my character still decided a couple of times to just not go where I wanted it to, suddenly turning round and going the opposite direction all of its own accord. I eventually got used to it and started swimming majestically through schools of fish like the game intended but still, for a game which has one of its main focuses as immersion, it sure did hinder it.

Talking of breaking immersion there's a section with mines around half way through the game which while fun to play and emotionally strong (especially with the great white shark), constantly getting blown up is one way to take you out of the experience a bit. I would've been fine if the game made it seem like we could get hit by the mines but in reality just swam through safely as that would've kept the tension up high without giving us the relief of blowing up until the end.

It may seem like I didn't really like this game and you may be confused if you'd already scrolled down to see the high rating I gave it (I know you all do). I gave it such a high score due to all the little moments when you're swimming, the music swells and you get an awesome set piece from seeing a frankly giant blue whale swim next to you (scarier than the mines) to jumping out the sea with dolphins or standing in the middle of a school of fish and just watching them fill the screen. Seriously, in these moments the game just grabs you, instantly making you feel relaxed or tense depending on the music and just letting you ride along with it. You can also make your own mini set pieces by grabbing hold of fish and swimming with them which gives you increased speed and the ability to tell people 'yeah, I swam with a giant squid', although I did find the controls, again, to be a bit of a bug bear.

I'm not going to say that the story was the best of the year in it's minimalist style, to be honest, I don't like stories which supposedly leave you to connect the abstract dots as it can sometimes be seen as just lazy writing (Limbo's story left me wanting more for example). But the general feel and being able to get emotions across from facial expressions of fish and some musical changes was simply superb - I never thought I'd get the same level of emotion in a game from watching a blue whale look at me in the eye as the prologue in The Last of Us.

The graphics are simply breath-taking, with the cel-shaded art style perfectly complementing the game (it wouldn't have had the same effect if the game focused on realism). With my PC setting everything to high I was in awe at the amount of fish and seaweed available to swim around, all interacting to my touch. The meditation statues offer an even more relaxed view at the world around, similar to Life is Strange, although I didn't use them to their full effect, preferring to swim around. It's a shame, after all this majesty and beauty that some of the animations when interacting with objects involves you standing stationary while watching the object move around. I do have to give a quick shout out to whoever did the water though, as it looked Pixar level of real in some sections.

Conclusion: this game might not seem for everyone, but I'd recommend anyone to play this game, especially in this fast-moving world.

Rating: 92%

Thanks for reading, Satamer.

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