Closing out our first day at E3, we were treated to a surreal underwater adventure that lets players swim with over 200 species of fish and discover hidden magical places. Evoking the dream of scuba diving, Matt Nava (Flower, Journey) has meticulously crafted vast seascapes and ecosystems that boast both tranquility and peril with a kaleidoscope of colors.
Two new features have been added to the game, the first being a complete simulated food chain. If you wait long enough, you can witness nature take its course, from the tiniest of fish to behemoth sharks. If you hitch a ride on a large fish, you might see it eat smaller fish as it goes along, or a larger predator could eat that fish right out from underneath you. This feature adds realism to Abzu, making it more dynamic than only swimming with schools of fish. It’s fun to watch nature take its course, albeit sometimes sad, especially if a shark snatches one of your cute drones unexpectedly.
The developers have also added statues throughout the game that allow the player to enter a meditative mode. Swimming close to the statues grants you the ability to sit on top of them, changing the camera angle to first person so you can kick-back watch fish as they swim past. In this mode, you also have the ability to follow one specific fish if you choose – until that one gets eaten, of course. The meditative mode essentially turns your screen into a fish tank, and switching between the different species will prompt the screen to tell you the name of the fish, giving Abzu a wonderful educational quality. In some larger areas, there can be upwards of ten thousand fish. (I’m sure my cat will love that.)
One important mechanic of Abzu are the drones that you will find on the sea floor. Repair them and they will become your companion, allowing you pass through barriers, uncover secrets of the deep, and release new species of fish into the environment. You can have more than one drone as your companion at at time, possibly up to three or four, depending on how many you find in your current area.
We didn’t see much of the narrative during our preview, but it’s something that will be revealed to the player as they move along in the game. The story isn’t linear, but rather presented in pieces. Abzu is not about shoehorning players into one experience; uncovering clues like Egyptian-style hieroglyphics, players will come away with their own thoughts and ideas. The narrative is open to interpretation. As a writer myself, I find that refreshing.
Abzu is being developed by Giant Squid and published by 505 Games, available via Steam and for PS4 on August 2, 2016. Check out the E3 trailer here.