It’s easy to misunderstand a game like Abzû if you come to it expecting conventional game challenges like agility tests or clockwork puzzles or endless hours of foisted exposition. That’s not what it’s up to, and it’s important to approach these sorts of alt-gaming experiences on their own terms.
What if someone made a scuba-diving game flush with gorgeous marine life and breathtaking seascapes, then framed it with mysterious pictograms and hieroglyphs that let you puzzle out what’s going on and why? What if the length of an experience depended less on arbitrary distances, and more on how long you chose to spend moving from one area to another? What if seeing were its own reward?
Abzû is the opposite of an obstacle-riddled adventure that you race through in search of benchmarks like scores or achievements. As I wrote in my review, “It’s more often a nod to mindfulness, like sitting quietly in a room listening to John Luther Adams’ Become Ocean through a pair of audiophile cans, alpha waves rising, reaching for something that lies beyond the frame of the experience.”
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Write to Matt Peckham at firstname.lastname@example.org