Also On: PC
Publisher: 505 Games
Developer: Giant Squid
For all intents and purposes, Abzû is basically Journey 2. Not only do the two games share a similar approach to gameplay, the studio behind it was founded by Journey's art director, Matt Nava, and the same person, Austin Wintory, composed the music for both.
There are worse things for a game to be, of course. Journey is one of the most decorated games ever, having won more Game of the Year awards than you could shake a stick at, in addition to being honoured with a Grammy Award and several BAFTAs. If you're going to steal/borrow/draw inspiration from anywhere, it seems more worthwhile to take from a game like Journey than to make generic FPS #63247.
That said, there's a pretty major downside to borrowing so heavily from such a unique game: it makes it hard for Abzû to stand out in its own right. Take its gameplay, for example. Abzû is all about allowing you to explore some gorgeously self-contained environments at your own pace, never forcing you to move on until you've satisfied your curiosity as to what lies around every corner and just behind every rock. It's a wonderfully unhurried game. It's also essentially identical to Journey.
The same can be said for the way your character moves around. Sure, you're underwater instead of on land — which means that you're swimming instead of walking — but one of the many great things about Journey was how fluid your movements were, to the point that it often felt like you were gliding and flying. In fact, it's probably a mark against Abzû that even though you're underwater and you don't have to worry about air pressure or oxygen, you never feel as free or as weightless here as you do in Journey.
I get that that's completely unfair to Abzû, and that it deserves to be judged on its own merits. It's just really, really hard to do that, because in every respect this game owes such a heavy debt to that one. The music is strikes the right balance between mysterious and relaxing…but it's nowhere near as memorable as Journey's score. The environments look impressive…but not as impressive as they did in Journey. There are moments where you get a sense of the game's scale, but at nearly every turn it feels like you've got to fight with the controls to make that happen…in contrast with Journey, wherein the camera controls felt effortless.
Don't get me wrong, there are things Abzû does well. The fish, for example, are stunningly beautiful, particularly when you get really far down into the ocean and you start seeing some giants of the deep. The game's length feels just right; while some may balk at a running time that clocks in at around 2-3 hours, as someone who doesn't like padding in their games, I loved it. And, really, had Journey not existed, pretty much all my complaints above would be negated, since there's really nothing else out there like this.
But Journey does exist. And, unfortunately, no matter how hard it tries, Abzû just isn't Journey.