In the demo for ocean-exploring adventure game Abzu shown off at this year’s PlayStation Experience, there’s a wide-open rock enclosure where you can make contact with giant manta rays. My first attempts ended in failure – though you can school with the sea creatures in Abzu, including larger ones by grabbing onto their fins, I was still learning the controls and couldn’t get close enough to latch onto any of my flat friends. But then, I stumbled on a trick: one of the diver protagonist’s few moves involves blasting out a sonar wave, which instantly attracted every ray around me into a giant dogpile. Successful friendship!
According to 505 Games’ representative Brandon Cox, this sudden onslaught of love-rays is exactly how the game is supposed to work – sea creatures who communicate through some kind of sonar in real life will react to you when you use it in Abzu. That means some animals won’t be affected at all (giant schools of fish were oblivious to my catchy sonar tunes), while others will be attracted to your presence (or theoretically repelled by it). That means those of you who want to swim with whales and dolphins will have a very good shot, since those massive mammals are active sonar users in the real world.
If that sort of interaction sounds at all familiar, there’s a good reason: it’s remarkably similar to the way you communicate with your co-op partner in Journey, the previous game by Abzu Art Director Matt Nava. However, Abzu’s method of interaction is a lot more complex – rather than just talking to one person, you’re engaging with an ocean’s worth of sea-life and a pack of electronic helpers who follow you wherever you go.
Whether that sort of breezy interaction will be the focus of the game (as with one of Nava’s other games, Flower), or there will be a more complex story involved is still under wraps until Abzu’s release in early 2016. However, according to one of Nava’s most recent interviews, the answer is ‘a bit of both': “What we’re trying to do at this point is to keep the details of the story a secret [and] really capture the magic and the majesty of being in a new environment, having those kinds of interactions with these creatures.”