It is always difficult to get across the very essence of a game and not tarnish the joy of discovery. Some genres that thrive on gameplay mechanics, like shooting or resource management, these games don’t spoil as easy because it’s the playing where the fun is to be found. However, when I come across a game like FAR: Lone Sails I tread carefully because it is the act of discovery that makes this title so special. For this reason, I have worked very hard to provide a review that will not delve too deep and will also only contain screenshots from the first hour of play. FAR Lone Sails is a short journey, maybe four to five hours for most people. That one fact could put some people off, but please stick with me and let me explain why I think everyone should play this magical game.
Back in the dark ages of gaming when I was a young chap and the internet was still an exe file, gaming was a far more ‘specialist’ hobby. Every weekend my mother would drag me around car boot sales, searching for bargains among the mountains of crap other people didn’t want. There were two things that kept me going during these hard times: cheeseburger stalls and used game stands. Every car boot sale would have at least one stall that would contain row after row of games on ancient devices called floppy discs. I remember once picking up a game called Another World and for months I would be captivated by it. At the time I felt like I had struck gold, I didn't know anything about it and for all I knew I was the only gamer on the planet who was exploring that alien landscape. My point is that these days, most of the games we play have been scrutinised and dissected before we even pick them up; I think that is a shame.
The first thing that hit me about Far is the artistic clout this game has and how it instantly kicks that wonder gland into action. In a profound opening scene, you take control of a small humanoid character wearing what looks like a red raincoat. There is no dialogue or written backstory to ease you in, which leaves you somewhat in the dark as to who you are and where you are going.
I have not played many games that make my spine tingle in the first few minutes, FAR leaves so much open to supposition but at the same time drops morsels of information for the player to find. In this way, we see that sometimes atmosphere (as with horror or passion) is enhanced by what we don’t see. It is clear that all is not well in this world, that something has gone wrong and this journey will be a one-way ticket.
You move from left to right as you would in any other sideways scrolling game. The controls are simple enough, run, jump, pick up and press. Once you have rummaged around in your home you will quickly happen across the craft that will carry you on this adventure and into the unknown. This wonderful contraption looks like a cross between a Mississippi riverboat and an old steam engine. As with buildings, once you enter a structure/vehicle the side will drop away giving you a cross-section view of inside.
Learning how to 'sail' the engine will take a few minutes of trial and error, but in its simplest form, this is a land fairing steamship. You must place items in the furnace which then fills the fuel tank. As steam builds you move forwards and you can even gain a burst of speed buy venting the tank. As you progress, the ship will have various parts bolted on but that I will not expand on that except for sails. When the wind is blowing the sails allow you to save fuel and just cruise: however, sails don't work when crawling through deserted structures. Large wheels allow it to trundle across the many deserted landscapes you will encounter and I have to say I love how well the vehicle connects with its environment. Whether it be crunching through an old farmers yard or down a rocky mountainside, the craft and pretty much everything you interact with has a satisfying weight to it.
As you come across various obstacles in your path you must jump out of the engine and engage in some light puzzle solving. These challenges will not give you much trouble but that didn’t bother me as each task feels very satisfying to work through. I like how the player is also guided by colour and light, buttons you can press for example are bright red and areas on the screen that have relevance often have visual markers to draw you in. The music in FAR deserves special attention because it is not only excellent but acts as part of the storytelling. Whether it be the low thunder of drums, a single guitar twang or the melancholy sound of a lone violin; the music complements what is happening on the screen perfectly.
‘The problem is choice’
I feel lucky in that I enjoy most game types and these days we really are spoilt for choice. In a world where I can happily sink three hundred and fifty hours into the Witcher 3, I don’t feel the need to get this kind of playtime from every game I own. Indeed, if a game gives me an amazing experience in one hour of play, in my eyes that game is just as important.
After playing games like Inside and Oxenfree, the experience comes with me long after the credits have rolled. In fact, the developers of Oxenfree stepped beyond the borders of their game with some clever ARG games, which served to continue the mystery for fans. Games that excite your imagination and make you feel they are more than a sum of their parts are wonderful treats and now we have another gem to add to our collection.
If there is one thing I have learned in my time as a gamer is that quantity does not always mean quality. In fact games like No Mans Sky have illustrated this point perfectly, that while there may be some fun to be had, there is no point running into a never-ending horizon when all that awaits you is a procedural purgatory. Playing FAR gave me an experience, one that I really value because it was profound and rare.
This might be the shortest review I have ever published and as I stated in the opening chapter, this is because I really want you to experience this game for yourself. The games creator, Don Schmocker made FAR while still studying his master's degree at the Zurich University of Arts, an impressive feat in itself. Let us hope this talented young man decides to make more wonderful games like FAR: Lone Sails.
I would like to thank the folks over at Mixtvision for providing me with a review copy of this game. I hope you enjoyed my review and found it useful. If you would like to see more reviews from me please add the site to your favourites and follow me on Twitter @riggedforepic