Wearied by ghouls and robots? Swim with ‘Abzu’
One of the under-appreciated aspects of video games, I think, is the relaxation element. Find the right title, and an immersive video game can be a genuinely meditative experience.
Such is the case with “Abzu” ($19.95, rated E) an underwater exploration game that’s drenched in gorgeous visuals, beautiful music and a calm, flowing vibe. Fans of previous exploration games like “Flower” and “Journey” will definitely want to check this one out. In fact, the new game was developed by the art director and musical composer of those previous titles.
The game is set in an undersea wonderland, which the player explores via an oddly appealing avatar – a kind of space-age scuba diver who moves with effortless grace. The control system is simplicity itself and it’s a pleasure just to move around in this virtual world. For those of us too claustrophobic to ever strap on an air mask, this is the closest we’re likely to get to scuba diving.
The art design is lovely, colorful and slightly stylized to emphasize the otherworldly nature of undersea exploration. You’ll encounter schools of neon fish, pods of playful orcas and a few oddly ambiguous species as you move through the various environments.
Exploration and curiosity are encouraged: That coral reef may not be what it seems, and a patch of fronds may conceal a sunken shrine. New locomotion options open up, too. You can grab onto a passing fish to move faster. You’ll also encounter some intriguing technology on the sea floor, both beneficial and hazardous.
There is no survival element at all in the game. You’re never going to run out of air and there are no angry merfolk or Lovecraftian leviathans to fear. You might come across a few obstacles – some very light puzzle sequences are inserted to open new areas – but the game is all about freedom of movement and discovering what’s next. Abzu is designed to inspire gentle awe.
And so it does, over and over, through about three hours of playing time total. The score, by film and game composer Austin Wintory, is simply beautiful – lots of strings and harps. Tempo and melody shift as you come across new encounters and the musical cues are carefully deployed to heighten emotional moments in the game.
As to story – well, there is one, kind of. But the less said about that, the better. The narrative emerges organically from your discoveries, and in the last few sequences of the game you’ll find some astounding things under those waves.
I enjoyed Abzu very much and found it works as nice palette-cleanser, too, between more frantic gaming pursuits. Wearied by ghouls and robots? Why not go for a swim?
“Abzu” is now available on PlayStation 4 and Microsoft Windows.
The endlessly bananas ‘Nuka-World’
Speaking of ghouls and robots, fans of the post-apocalyptic freakout “Fallout 4” will want to give very serious consideration to the game’s recently-released sixth and final add-on adventure – the endlessly bananas “Nuka-World” ($19.99, rated M).
It’s an inspired premise: After picking up an unlikely radio broadcast, the Lone Wanderer finds himself in a derelict amusement park on the outskirts of Boston. This is Nuka-World, the theme park that once celebrated the ubiquitous Nuka-Cola soft drink, back before the bombs fell.
Alas, Nuka-World has been overrun by homicidal raider gangs, each trying to wrest control of the park from even more lethal squatters. Kiddie Kingdom, for instance, has been taken over by feral ghouls commanded by an insane stage magician. Over in the Galactic Zone, frenzied robots and nuclear-powered animatronics have taken over all the rides and attractions.
The game designers clearly saved their best ideas for last, and “Nuka-World” is easily the biggest and best of the add-on adventures. You’ll find dozens of villains, robots, monsters and mutated animals, including the quantum deathclaw, the venemous bloodworm and the entirely delightful ghoulrilla king.
Veterans of the series will be pleased to hear that the DLC packs for “Fallout 4” are in much better shape than those released for “Fallout 3” and “Fallout: New Vegas.” System-crashing bugs are no longer a worry, although I found load times have gotten a lot longer, on PlayStation 4 anyway, with all the add-on packs installed.
“Nuka-World” sends off “Fallout 4” on a high note. A high note of keening terror and paranoid laughter, sure. But a high note nonetheless.
“Nuka-World” is now available on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Microsoft Windows.