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E3 2016

Abzu Hands-On Preview – Under The Sea

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Closing out our first day at E3, we were treated to a surreal underwater adventure that lets players swim with over 200 species of fish and discover hidden magical places. Evoking the dream of scuba diving, Matt Nava (Flower, Journey) has meticulously crafted vast seascapes and ecosystems that boast both tranquility and peril with a kaleidoscope of colors.

Two new features have been added to the game, the first being a complete simulated food chain. If you wait long enough, you can witness nature take its course, from the tiniest of fish to behemoth sharks. If you hitch a ride on a large fish, you might see it eat smaller fish as it goes along, or a larger predator could eat that fish right out from underneath you. This feature adds realism to Abzu, making it more dynamic than only swimming with schools of fish. It’s fun to watch nature take its course, albeit sometimes sad, especially if a shark snatches one of your cute drones unexpectedly.

The developers have also added statues throughout the game that allow the player to enter a meditative mode. Swimming close to the statues grants you the ability to sit on top of them, changing the camera angle to first person so you can kick-back watch fish as they swim past. In this mode, you also have the ability to follow one specific fish if you choose – until that one gets eaten, of course. The meditative mode essentially turns your screen into a fish tank, and switching between the different species will prompt the screen to tell you the name of the fish, giving Abzu a wonderful educational quality. In some larger areas, there can be upwards of ten thousand fish. (I’m sure my cat will love that.)

Abzu-screenshot-1

One important mechanic of Abzu are the drones that you will find on the sea floor. Repair them and they will become your companion, allowing you pass through barriers, uncover secrets of the deep, and release new species of fish into the environment. You can have more than one drone as your companion at at time, possibly up to three or four, depending on how many you find in your current area.

We didn’t see much of the narrative during our preview, but it’s something that will be revealed to the player as they move along in the game. The story isn’t linear, but rather presented in pieces. Abzu is not about shoehorning players into one experience; uncovering clues like Egyptian-style hieroglyphics, players will come away with their own thoughts and ideas. The narrative is open to interpretation. As a writer myself, I find that refreshing.

Abzu is being developed by Giant Squid and published by 505 Games, available via Steam and for PS4 on August 2, 2016. Check out the E3 trailer here.

Joanna is drawn to sci-fi and post-apocalyptic worlds, and games with a generous amount of gore. When she's not gaming, she's convincing her friends it's a good idea to go into abandoned buildings.

E3 2016

Obduction Hands-On Preview – Not Your Standard Western

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IndieCade showcased a lot of gorgeous independent games at E3, including award-wining Cyan Inc.’s latest title, Obduction. Featuring a compelling storyline, dynamic characters, and taxing yet intuitive puzzles, Cyan evokes the spirit of Myst and Riven by creating an extremely immersive world that tests your powers of observation, rather than your reflexes.

The premise: an organic artifact plucks you from your serene night-time walk in the woods and transports you to a strange planet, to a small town that juxtaposes scenery of the old west and elements of futuristic technology. Holographic messages that you can play with the simple push of a button dot the town against the natural desert plant life and mine car tracks. Homes and other structures are built along side and into towering walls of red rock. There’s some imagery of Calico (California), Sedona (Arizona), and maybe a few other abandoned mining towns west of the Mississippi–but this isn’t Earth. Far from it.

Most of the holographic messages at the start of the demo were from the town mayor (acting as a sort of tour guide as he welcome you.) These are strategically placed at key points in the main part of town and, much like a self-guided tour of a museum, he’ll tell you about everything–from the people to the water. This part of the demo had a theme park feel to it, as it seemed oddly formal and detailed, and impersonal at the same time. The mayor himself was a little too “excited to see me,” even for a hologram. For as much information as he had about the town, he couldn’t seem to tell me where I actually was. There was something inherently sinister about him.

I did find one hologram of a woman outside the first house you’ll come to–a farmhouse with a porch and a white picket fence blocking in the front yard that could have been caught up in a Kansas twister itself. The woman’s message is friendly, albeit foreboding, as she tells you the name of a man not to trust in the area. There’s a giant laser-beam pointed into the sky, glowing and sparking, and a distinct lack of actual people. I did come across one gentlemen barricaded behind a high-tech vault door, unwilling to set foot outside. We conversed for about a minute or two, and that was that. I wandered away to explore the area further.

By sprinkling little bits of story from several characters right out the gate, it not only aids in creating Obduction’s immersive atmosphere, but it gives the player a mystery to solve–the chance to play detective and to figure out not only where they are and how they got there, but what secrets is this near-abandoned town is trying to cover with cacti and dry heat.

Obduction will be released for PC via Steam on July 26th and will be available for the Oculus Rift and HTC Vive.

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