Journey was a game that, on paper, should not have been a success. A faceless person traipsing through an empty desert and desolate mountains for three hours without interaction with anybody or anything. Only two buttons are used the whole game. And yet it is a big success. Finding zen in video game form, thatgamecompany was able to combine the rudiments of Buddhism with gameplay that overrides anything resembling a typical shoot ‘em up or action platformer to give the player a truly personal, meaningful experience that transcends the game. In 2016, the thatgamecompany continues to explore alternate forms of gaming by returning with a parallel zen experience, Abzu. If only there was a VR version…
The game’s idea taken from the cosmic ocean mythology common to many traditional religions and beliefs, Abzu is the underwater journey of a lone diver. Where Journey was set in dry deserts and desolate mountains, Abzu takes its faceless ‘hero’ on a journey of underwater discovery through many lush environments, mystical scenes, and a wide variety of fish and water life. Unlike Journey, the game’s environment is bursting with colors and life. Developers having researched thousands of varieties of fish, the game is filled with all manner of ocean life—goldfish, mackerel, dolphins, clownfish, sea turtles, rays, etc., etc.
To be clear, however, Abzu is not a diving simulator. Like Journey, its intentions are perhaps as much spiritual as environmental. In the laid back, 1.5 to 3 hour experience (depending how much you enjoy the moment versus push-push-push ahead), the player has all the time they want to enjoy the beautiful underwater environments, parse out the Sumerian mythology, and contemplate the nature of the game, and by extension, things beyond the game. Ocean currents occasionally pulling the player along for a ride, dolphins or orcas sometimes doing the same, it’s a relaxing, almost meditational experience complemented by a subtly uplifting classical score.
Abzu a transcendent experience, for real-world divers it’s a must, for fans of Journey it’s a must, and for anybody who has had a long, stressful day, it’s a must. Sit back, flip on the wide screen, turn on the surround sound, and enjoy your mind wherever it may be taken in the game or elsewhere. Any way, it’s sure to be positive.