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Great moments in PC gaming: Swimming with whales in Abzû

(Image credit: 505 Games)

Great moments in PC gaming are bite-sized celebrations of some of our favorite gaming memories.


(Image credit: 505 Games)

Year: 2016
Developer: Giant Squid Studios

In Abzû you swim with lots of sea creatures—fish, squid, orcas—but the whales leave an indelible mark. As you emerge from an underwater tunnel, the opening frames a whale parent and child, playing together. You and these two whales, the child three times your size and the parent unthinkably massive, have the same destination. And so do the rest of the pod, who rush into scene just as the music soars.

(Abzû's music is an important part of why moments like this land with such impact, backed by orchestral swell that's overpowering. It's not every game that has its own harp ensemble in the credits.)

It's hard not to be intimidated by how small your diver suddenly seems when the camera pulls back to capture the difference in scale. Blue whales can grow to almost 100 feet. That is too long. When a school of yellow-tailed fish rise to pass you the camera zooms in to frame them, at which point the yawning jaw of one of the whales suddenly gapes wide. For a moment you think you're about to be eaten with the fish but it's just a trick of perspective, and the whale's mouth closes beside you. For a moment its eye is shut, as if relishing the meal, then it opens to regard you. You're not food, you're a traveling companion.

The whales accompany you to the ocean floor before playfully twirling a goodbye. They've been Virgil to your Dante—no, that's not a Devil May Cry reference—guiding you to the underworld, where the water's dark and the creatures strange. Here you'll confront the shark who has been dogging your progress throughout Abzû. The whales provide a moment of levity and grandeur before things get dark.

I have thalassophobia, a fear of open water, and I play games like Abzû as a way to confront and challenge it. (Subnautica, though it's a great game, gives me the actual shakes.) Swimming with whales is something I could never do in real life, but I came close in Abzû and it took my breath away.

Jody is that guy who will try to convince you to play some indie game you've never heard of with a name like Extreme Meatpunks Forever. He is also on a doomed quest to play every Warhammer game.