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Abzu Review: Reformation

/ Aug 2nd, 2016 No Comments

Abzu Review

One of the greatest marvels in our world is the ocean. If you’ve never seen it in person, it is a sight to behold. It is huge — almost terrifyingly so — and absolutely beautiful. There are few things more pleasurable than swimming in the ocean and feeling the pull of the waves beneath you. The hugeness of the ocean isn’t only on the surface. It is also teeming with life below it, some we have yet to discover.

Abzu uses the ocean as a backdrop to give players an exciting, unpredictable aquatic adventure. It utilizes what we find inviting about the ocean to deliver relaxing and engaging gameplay, and the unknown nature of what is beneath the ocean creates a world of wonder.

Sea of Change

Below the ocean’s surface there is an entire world waiting to be explored. The azure vastness is teeming with an array of aquatic life, from tiny minnows to gigantic whales. However, the ocean is currently broken and toxic.

An inquisitive and determined adventurer exists ready to brave the depths of the ocean to save it. The Diver is an adept swimmer with the ability to affect change. She isn’t simply a passive observer out to admire the beauty and splendor of the ocean; she wants to heal the damaged parts by offering up a piece of herself.

Abzu Review

The Diver is here to save you.

Abzu’s story is told wordlessly through the actions of the Diver. Figuring out exactly what is happening and the identity of the Diver is up to the player. To accomplish this, Abzu is full of subtle details that aid the player in constructing who the Diver truly is and what is ailing the ocean.

There is even more depth thanks to rich lore and a surprising history of a secret oceanic culture. The game places faith in the player to discover and create meaning from the clues and details hidden throughout. The truth you may find in the game may be different than the truth someone else found. The exciting part is comparing notes and maybe learning something you missed.

Abzu Review

There are important story details to discover by taking your time.

The narrative is also emotionally moving. As the Diver, you make connections to the little probes you find on the ocean floor. As you swim around with them and have them help you continue making progress in your journey, you become attached to them. That’s why when something happens to one or you have to split up, it creates a sense of loss.

Like Home

As the Diver, your goal is to swim through different oceanic areas and restore them to their former glory. While you have a goal of restoration, much of what makes Abzu such an engrossing experience is discovering the different aquatic life living beneath the surface.

The more time you take to comb through the environments, the more beauty and majesty you will find (and likely influence). Uncovering meditation spots allow you to see how the different ecosystems interact. It is important to spend time seeing the variety of species the game has to offer. But discovery isn’t only the providence of admiring the species of fish and mammals living in the ocean.

Abzu Review

Swimming around the game’s lush environment is an absolute joy.

A huge part of discovery in the game is learning about the lore and constructing the narrative in your mind. There is a lot of information hidden within the details of the environment. While you take time to admire the aquatic life, spend some time to inspect, analyze and understand what the environment is trying to tell you. The game rewards players willing to scour the ocean floor with secrets and clues about the Diver and her identity.

Swimming around in Abzu is incredibly relaxing. This is good because you will be spending plenty of your time swimming through vast stretches of ocean. It is extremely comforting to move weightlessly through the ocean and happening upon different aquatic life. Interacting with the larger creatures is especially fun. There may be no greater joy than riding through colorful seaweed on the back of a manatee.

Even though swimming is a delight, it has a steep learning curve. The game’s only real drawback is the controls. It isn’t that they are bad, but it is difficult to learn exactly how the controls behave.

Abzu Review

Abzu is full of eye catching moments of wonder.

When you start, the controls automatically invert camera and directional controls. You can change them to normal orientations in the menus, and that’ll make it easier to get a handle on swimming.

You need to dive constantly as you move to make forward motion. Movement isn’t handled by the left analog stick, that just controls orientation and direction. The boost button is extremely helpful because it allows you to build momentum and zip around the ocean. It may take some time before swimming becomes second nature, but it will happen.


Abzu is a beautiful game with excellent pacing and gorgeous visuals. It has some of the best swimming in a video game ever, even if the controls take some getting used to. There are plenty of secrets to discover in the game and uncovering them is a rewarding experience.

Abzu was reviewed on PlayStation 4 using a code for the game provided by the publisher.


Kalvin Martinez

Kalvin Martinez

Senior Editor at Gaming Illustrated
Kalvin Martinez studied Creative Writing at the University of California, Santa Cruz. He writes reviews, prose and filthy limericks. While he is Orange County born, he now resides in Portland, OR. He is still wondering what it would be like to work at a real police department. Follow Kalvin on Twitter @freepartysubs
Kalvin Martinez

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Gaming Illustrated RATING



There is plenty to discover in the environments of Abzu with the swimming being incredibly relaxing.


Abzu is an absolute marvel visually with breathtaking art direction and a visual style full of wonder.


The score by Austin Wintory is beautiful and gives Abzu a grandiose feel with the sound design making you feel as if you’re actually below water.


Discovering the identity of the Diver, her mission, and the lore is an absolute joy and tells a deep and moving story wordlessly.

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