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ABZÛ review: Dive into a sea teeming with life and beauty on Xbox One

ABZÛ is a unique game from Giant Squid and 505 Games that takes place almost entirely underwater. As a diver, players will explore the colorful ocean depths, encounters dozens of realistic and colorful fish, and unravel the deep mysteries of the ocean. It's easily one of the loveliest games on Xbox One, PlayStation 4, and PC.

Bring your fins

ABZÛ originally launched on PlayStation 4 and Steam, and recently arrived on Xbox One at long last. It's the first videogame from Giant Squid, an indie studio founded by Matt Nava, art director of Journey and Flower. Given that Austin Wintory composed the soundtracks of both Journey and this game, it's fair to think of ABZÛ as a spiritual successor to that title. But one needn't have played Matt Nava's previous games to enjoy this one (I haven't).

ABZÛ Xbox One

As the game begins, our nameless character (who we'll call the Diver) awakens on the surface of an ocean. Controlling her underwater movements is simple. One button moves the diver forward, one kicks her legs for a burst of speed, and another interacts with objects in the environment. A fourth button grabs onto any large sea creature, allowing our heroine to hitch a ride.

Steer in any direction with the left stick; turn the camera with the right stick. The controls are inverted by default, which is appropriate for games with 360-degree movement. But if the inversion gives you trouble, it can be disabled individually for both movement and the camera at any time from the pause menu.

Mysteries of the deep

ABZÛ Xbox One

Before long, the Diver will enter a large area teaming with sea life. The way forward, a hole in a rock formation, is blocked by a wall of vegetation. To get through it, she'll need to enlist the help of some drones buried in the nearby sand. These little guys provide a bit of company on the solitary journey, lighting the path and occasionally removing obstacles for our heroine. Their origin is initially unknown, but might become clear as the adventure progresses.

After clearing the path, Diver will swim through a series of caves, eventually reaching another open area to explore. The basic flow of the game involves traveling to new undersea habits, each filled with unique sea creatures, solving a few puzzles, and then moving on to the next area. The puzzles never get more complex than finding a machine to interact with and/or a way to open a new path.

ABZÛ Xbox One

Things get much faster-paced whenever the protagonist encounters a jet stream. These underwater currents propel her along quickly through ruins, caverns, and other interesting environments. The diver can interact with schools of fish as she darts through the currents, contributing to an Achievement rather than serving any real purpose. But ABZÛ is all about taking in the sights and sea life, so the jet streams still provide a welcome thrill.

Dangers down below

ABZÛ Xbox One

The Diver soon encounters a great white shark who destroys one of her drones before swimming away. This massive beast is one of the few characters she'll meet throughout the game. The story is conveyed wordlessly via in-game cinematics, with underwater murals providing further cryptic clues to our heroine's origins and the history of this aquatic world. Despite this lack of dialog, you'll be hard-pressed not to feel both wonder and sadness as the game continues.

Although the shark itself never provides a real threat to the player, danger eventually emerges in the form of pyramid-shaped mines floating in the water. The mystery of who put them there becomes (at least partially) apparent as you go on. Touching one of these will stun the diver, but never kill her. You can't die or fail in ABZÛ, so don't come looking for a challenge.

ABZÛ Xbox One

ABZÛ is composed of seven chapters, each of which (along with the interactive end credits sequence) can be replayed after beating the game. The overall goal in many of these chapters is to return life to areas that have gone dead. This involves entering portals based on the mythological concept of the Abzu, a primeval sea located between worlds. After visiting the void realm, plant and animal life will spring forth in a glorious burst of color.

How and why she's able to do this will be puzzling at first, becoming clearer near the end of the game. ABZÛ's story is deliberately ambiguous, with some important facts left to the player's imagination. But there is certainly some payoff near the end, as our heroine discovers prehistoric species and amazing new environments. If you're still confused about what happens after the credits roll, check out Crave's breakdown of the plot.

Pools, meditation spots, and seashells

ABZÛ Xbox One

Throughout the game, the Diver will find three types of collectibles. Seashells are simply that, collectible items hidden out of the way. Hidden pools are more interesting. Interacting with one causes it to light up, releasing a new type of fish or creature into the ocean.

The meditation spots are sharkman-shaped statues upon which the Diver sits and contemplates. There you can simply watch the schools of fish peacefully swim by, or switch the focus to individual creatures and groups of fish swimming through the area. The game displays the name of the fish you focus on, as it also does when riding on a larger one.

Developer Giant Squid put obvious effort into realistically modeling the appearance and behavior of dozens of species of fish, so watching them can be quite fun on its own. You can even hop directly to any individual meditation spot after beating the game.

Achievements

ABZÛ Xbox One Giant Squid

The Xbox One version of ABZÛ features a scant 12 Achievements worth a total of 1,000 Gamerscore. Several involve simple actions like performing a flip while riding a creature and witnessing a fish eat another fish while meditating, which can basically be done anywhere. A few can only be performed during very specific circumstances, such as riding a giant squid and riding a whale while it breaches the surface of the water. Nothing too complex.

The three hardest Achievements involve finding all of the collectibles. There are over 50 in total, some seriously tucked out of the way. You'll most likely need to follow a video guide to collect 'em all. I highly recommend playing through the game once on your own first, just to fully take in the beauty and story without the pressure of following the guide. If you prefer to jump straight in with a guide, the whole process should take about three hours.

It's better down where it's wetter

ABZÛ Xbox One

ABZÛ is a short but utterly engaging experience. Not only does it let players discover an undersea world, it does so with impeccable artistry. There's just so much undersea animal and plant life, all of it colorful and exciting. Remember how beautiful the pot dealer in American Beauty) thought plastic bags were? That's the level of beauty that ABZÛ actually achieves!

This game won't be for everybody. Some players require more action and challenge than ABZÛ aims to deliver. The overall experience is quite short, albeit highly replayable. There are very few games like ABZÛ out there, and none of them on Xbox One. Grab this one for its artistic beauty and a unique, captivating diving experience.

Pros:

  • Some of the best use of color in a videogame
  • Undersea creatures each look and move realistically
  • Story and environments guaranteed to stimulate the imagination

Cons:

  • One playthrough only lasts about two hours.
  • Movement is slow and awkward during brief on-land segments.

See on the Xbox Store (opens in new tab)

Xbox One review copy provided by publisher 505 Games.

Paul Acevedo is the Games Editor at Windows Central. A lifelong gamer, he has written about videogames for over 15 years and reviewed over 350 games for our site. Follow him on Twitter @PaulRAcevedo. Don’t hate. Appreciate!

22 Comments
  • Wow, great review Paul. I saw a Twitch stream of this a while back, but I wasn't all that interested. Doesn't seem to be a very fun game to watch. With this review, I'll pick this up and give it a play. This seems like a fitting game to find all of the collectibles. Thanks for the review.
  • I really enjoyed this game. A little pricey for it's length, but worth a look at the very least.
  • I was lucky to win this game on your Christmass Stream :D it is great. I loved the look of it. I only wish I had a stonger computer. To swim with full quality is a challange on my system.
  • I didn't like the fact that review has shared quite a lot about story.
  • is 15002 available for slow ring??
  • Wrong article maybe?
  • Thanks Paul for the review :)
  • Looked at this a few times, looks simply gorgeous, but not sure on the price. Fortunately but more unfortunately, I suspect that we will see this at a real good sale price very soon. I may jump on it then. I'm a cheap ass sale hound. Very grateful for the review. Also, a pity the achievements are so limited. They could have added a great deal of value to it by a greater spread, could have eeked out a little more playability. Stunningly beautiful.
  • Nice review.
  • I cant decide if I should get this for PS4 or XO. Any suggestions?
  • Go with which controller you prefer.
  • Doh! I actually like both of them the same. I think I am going for XO for the GS. I am more about GS than Trophies. 
  • The PlayStation 4 version apparently has more fish on-screen at once, especially when running on the Pro. But like you, I prefer Achievements to Trophies. :)
  • So, what's the title mean? I didn't see any explanaiton of what the name conveys. I wish we got more games that utilized different environments well, like this, but it rarely happens. Reminds me of the water zone in WoW (I think with Cata), and just having the difference of movement made playing the game more interesting (that vertical engagement made you think and do things more intelligently, I felt). Doesn't seem this is for me, but I like the setting on its face. Feels like a more interesting world to play in than the typical act of moving along a 2-D plane towards an objective.
  • I did mention the meaning of the word and link to its Wikipedia page. ;)
  • What a beautiful game, remind me of a dolphin game during 90s..
  • Ecco the dolphin ^_^
  • Nice Review Paul!
  • This is such a fun, relaxing game. Have played it a number of times and will play again, thanks to Windows Central for showing me and thanks for making it. Short but great game.
  • This game reminds me so much of games from that PSN developer, That Game Company. Makers of such games as Journey. I love the atmosphere and style of this game so much. Great review and great game.
  • Looks like a very interesting game, and since it's so short, I should probably give it a quick playthrough.
  • Looks very beautiful and relaxing. Another short, but sweet game. Excellent review.