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Abzû by Austin Wintory (Review)

posted Aug 8, 2016, 9:21 PM by Leo Mayr

Abzû
 is the latest videogame by the developers behind the highly successful Journey, a game that perfectly blended stunning visuals with expertly written music. Where Journey was set in a beautiful desert, Abzû takes the player into the ocean with some of the most stunning underwater scenes seen in a videogame. Having composed the score for Journey, Austin Wintory was the obvious choice for Abzû, and oh, does he deliver.

The score is built around a central main theme, introduced in "To Know, Water" that guides us through the experience. The game features no dialogue or spoken language whatsoever, letting the music take over completely. The atmospheric music dynamically adapts to the player's actions while following a basic story. On paper, the game sounds a lot like Journey, and while the comparison is justified, the score ends up sounding very different. The majority of the score is very string heavy and you'll get a handful of melodies remniscient of Journey, but what sets the score apart from is predecessor is Wintory's use of an entire harp ensemble. The wonders of the ocean and the player's discoveries are perfectly underlined with the frequent use of the harps, making the music feel mysterious but still reserved.
After a while, as you descend further into the dark abyss, the music takes a darker, more serious tone. These ominous moments take away the confidence and joy, leaving the player in the darkness and the unknown. The game's science fiction elements appear amidst these suspenseful moments, adding a different layer to the already diverse soundscape. The score quickly recovers from the threatening deep sea dive and returns to its more calm and playful tone before culminating in the 10-minute "Their Waters Were Mingled Together", a truly worthy resolution to the musical journey.

Austin Wintory has found just the right balance between the harp ensemble and the more traditional orchestral elements, blending in a soft choir (best heard in "Then Were Created The Gods In The Midst Of Heaven") for the game's more thought-provoking moments making the experience all the more diverse. The game's different moods and atmospheres are well balanced with the score seamlessly switching between scripted sequences and open exploration. At its core, a score should be about the stories told by it's corresponding images, and Abzû is a wonderful example for that. The game knows the impact music can have on a medium and takes full advantage of it, making it one of the most memorable musical journeys of the year so far.

Austin Wintory delivers an incredibly engaging videogame score that perfectly reflects the images seen on screen and breathes life into the player's journey through gorgrous underwater scenery. The mostly contemplative music is the main driving force behind the game, giving you that sense of discovery and wonder. Though most of the game is scripted, you'll feel like discovering all the aquatic wildlife all over again each time you play the game. The music really feels like Wintory has not wasted a single drop of ink in writing the engrossing soundscape that define the gameplay experience from start to finish.