Stand at the bow of your very own submarine ship in this brilliant voyage of discovery. The Finger Guns review of FAR: Changing Tides.
I’ve never attempted to sail before and for good reason. The various moving parts, unpredictability of the sea and the unwieldy terms required for navigation would simply have me chilling at the bottom of ocean in no time. I’m certain, beyond all reasonable doubt, that I would utterly suck at sailing, basically. So, when a game like FAR can succeed in having you feel like a pro at a concept you fear, you know it’s charting the right course.
Indie gems are ten to the dozen now, as I’ve discovered in the past couple of years especially. FAR: Changing Tides is another title fully deserving of this label. Tight and compact gameplay mechanisms are complemented with a stellar art direction and wonderful soundtrack. Not only that, it offers a pleasant mix of quiet moments and brain-tease puzzles, without the usual handholding that’s become the custom in modern times.
FAR: Changing Tides is an interesting twist on the usual 2D exploration puzzle games you’d typically find. The largest percentage of your time will be spent on board your vessel. Your boat-come-submarine is your primary means to move through the world of FAR, requiring a surprising amount of input on your part to keep things moving smoothly in the right direction.
Initially, you’ll have to attentively manage your sails, ensuring you set them up to maximise speed, before hastily downing them before an overhanging ledge plunges them back down into the ship, damaging them in the process. Later, you’ll need account for firing up the engine by carefully managing resources to burn as fuel, ensuring the engine doesn’t overheat, and fanning the oxygen supply. Eventually, you’ll be scurrying at speed, moving between different areas of the vessel to keep everything running as close to efficient as you can.
You’ll need to learn quickly too because FAR doesn’t wait around, nor does it cater for wastefulness. In the midst of keeping your vessel afloat, you’ll additionally need to watch out for obstacles, search out resources and repair any damages. It sounds complicated and like an antithesis for what should be good video game fun, but it all works so fluidly you’ll rapidly find yourself in a satisfying rhythm, steering your ship like the greatest of history’s sailors. It gets even more interesting when you gain the abilities to submerge under the water and power up speed boosts.
Making your means of transport your primary goal and focus is a creative idea, one that works much better in practice and implementation than it does as an idea for a game. FAR: Changing Tides nails this aspect so well I was slightly flabbergasted at how much fun I was having, while also panicking relentlessly throughout.
Diving Deepest Depths
During your adventure, you’ll run aground from all manner of obstacles, environmental hazards and the all-consuming inconvenience of requiring fuel. Your swiss-army knife vessel ain’t going particularly far without some fire to guzzle, is it?
To this end, you’ll need to regularly descend into the depths of the sea floor to scavenge for various items to set ablaze in the engine room. The majority of loot is comprised of discarded items from the dilapidated world you’re traversing. A box here, a light there, a petrol tank everywhere. On your travels, your incredibly helpful vessel will ping the locations of items to be discovered via a handy little radar screen, saving you the effort of scanning endless expanses with nothing of value to offer.
Unlike virtually every other video game with water based levels, swimming in FAR is an absolute joy. Gaining the ability to propel through liquid early on, a gentle hold of the X button will have you gliding through the seas with an easy breeze. Good thing too, because you’ll be spending a decent amount of time navigating the waters for items and solving various puzzles.
Everything just feels so nicely balanced and streamlined. Managing your ship requires consistent attention, but not so much micro-management as to be stifling. Swimming is almost universally nauseating, yet in FAR: Changing Tides it’s made as liberating as flying. Resource management can be constricting, but here it’s rewarding for those who take care and even affords some liberal mistakes.
There’s a challenge to FAR that’s finely poised between keeping you attentive, while not restricting your opportunity for taking in the journey through busy work.
As mentioned earlier, swimming and ship-management are just the tip of the iceberg threat you’ll face. Yup, you’ll be needing to avoid the fate of the Titanic frequently on your voyage.
Our brave sailor will often find his vessel slamming into pieces of the manufactured old world, titanic-busting ice clusters and even an occasional giant buoy (which funnily enough you can just brute force your way through). When you’re stopped dead in your tracks, you’ll be required to hop out to jump over, under or through the obstacle in question.
Most puzzles involve you manipulating switches, pushing moveable boxes, traversing insanely tall ladders and switching up using water or air to make items heavier or lighter. It may not sound overly appealing, or especially challenging, but the beauty of these puzzles is the spectacle with which they’re delivered. Shifting a crane to gain access past a hulking piece of debris doesn’t sound overly enticing until you see said crane is double the size of your ship and requires you to ascend hundreds of feet into the air to reach it.
The puzzling itself didn’t enrich my experience through their challenge or presentation alone, but the way in which FAR: Changing Tides actively trusts you to work out solutions without any guiding you by the nose to the solution makes them far more rewarding. There’s no obvious tutorial, no objective markers, no hints or map to aid your navigation. Everything you’ll achieve will come through your own experimenting to see what works, and more often, what doesn’t. There’s nothing more gratifying than guiding your ship through uncharted waters with aplomb and removing that barrier to progress through nothing else than your own guile and intuition.
FAR: Changing Tides doesn’t tell you to manage resources, you’re trusted to figure out that wastefully throwing items into the fire won’t get you very far. The use of simplistic but clear visual and audio cues aids your knowledge of when you’re on track or not, and simultaneously what you can and can’t interact with. It’s expert and confident design that elevates what should be a bland and mundane formula into something uniquely wholesome and enjoyable.
Unique is a word that also fits with FAR virtually ubiquitously, too. The graphical style and direction are truly gorgeous, with a stunning handcrafted and painted artistic presentation. The minimalist style used for your ship and character juxtapose beautifully with the detail going on in the wider environment. It benefits the gameplay by having clearly identifiable objects to interact with and guides your way subtly without beaming giant neon arrows in the correct direction.
Whether you’re running through frozen tundras, observing bleak, desolate shorelines or desperately navigating through the pitch darkness of under-sea cave systems, you’re constantly being treated to a visual feast. The moment I realised this experience would be a special one was when I was gently sailing onto the next landscape, only to find the sea rising and falling with sharp abandon. The sky overhead deepened with a foreboding, broody grey, the wind bashed the sails and lightning punctured the air.
In my despair, I submerged my vessel where I couldn’t help but notice the frankly incredible water physics. For a moment I was transfixed, unable to pull my attention away from the immaculately recreated flowing ocean. FAR: Changing Tides is positively overflowing with moments like this. They transfix you, leaving you awe-struck and wanting to savor every moment and pixel these artists must have spent an age bringing to life.
You’re told nothing about FAR: Changing Tide’s world through words, but by damn can you glean so much by just absorbing all of the environmental storytelling going on. Wrecks of ships long forgotten, desolate wreckages of buildings and behemoth mechanical creations, glistening waterfalls amongst sun-kissed cliffs, FAR has personality and beauty in spades.
If you don’t appreciate much about FAR’s gameplay, I’m virtually certain you’ll come away with the sights and sounds vividly scoured into your memory.
Memorable Marine Moments
I’ve lastly got to mention the little experiences, the moments of tiny captured memories that struck me throughout the journey on the vessel. I picked up a flower basket at the start of the game, carried all the way until I gained the titular ship and promptly stored it in the hold, for no other reason than… well, why not? A little later, I unlocked a new space in the ship, where I could actually plant said flower. Watering it over the course of your voyage and opening the roof above it allows it to flourish, eventually creating a mini-jungle room to brighten up the ship itself.
You can alternatively throw it into the engine fire as fuel, if you’re a psychopath. Whatever you’re into.
Running dangerously close to losing fuel, in my moment of desperation I chose to sacrifice a light I’d arduously worked to bring abroad to lighten up my plant room. It was a painful decision, not because it meant any tangible impact on the game itself, but because the small narratives I’d built up organically of my own volition had unraveled before me. As it turned out, I hit an area with more fuel a moment later, but I didn’t know that was going to be the case. I was bothered about throwing a light box into a fire for no other reason than because I’d thought it looked cool on my boat.
FAR: Changing Tides is one of those games that encapsulates small moments that stick with you. They’re different for every player, but your own investment will determine the kind of snapshots you’ll walk away from the game with. For every harrowing storm survival, I had an equally uplifting experience of digging out a cannister with resources, or stumbling upon a new cinematic vista to behold.
The developers clearly have an eye for the cinematic, as at certain times the camera will twist or shift, demonstrating a striking view or beautifully tragic scene of this destroyed world. It’s excellent work and again underlines the brilliance underpinning the game. The soundtrack and ambient music that punctuates your time playing is also of the highest quality, with calming, soothing tones mixed with stress inducing vibes to enhance the picture whatever the context. I love great video game music and FAR’s offering will be a playlist I listen to for the foreseeable future.
If you’re a returning player from Lone Sails, released in 2018, you’ll have a nice surprise wrapped up come the conclusion. Changing Tides doesn’t offer much in terms of direct storytelling, but the narrative you’ll build up on your quest across the ocean will be the story you’ll remember most fondly.
Aside from a couple of moments where the environmental guidance wasn’t as clear as the rest of the game, I have very little negative to say about Changing Tides. It was an experience as much as it was a video game and one I’m more than pleased I took the plunge to sail along for. There are certainly much worse ways to spend an afternoon of your time and it captures the essence of why video games are such an attractive medium for different kinds of story.
Considering the price and the length for a first playthrough (roughly 4-5 hours), your value proposition will be determined by how much you’re willing to throw yourself into this immersive and incredible world. FAR: Changing Tides has a stunning art style, wonderful soundtrack, streamlined yet nicely balanced gameplay and a world that’s just begging you to appreciate it. It’s one of my favourite games this year, so far (sorry).
A wonderfully unique concept, FAR: Changing Tides had me attending to a virtual vessel with the kind of love and focus usually only devoted to the most valued things in life. Its beautiful, handcrafted art direction, stellar soundtrack, approachable yet unapologetic gameplay and phenomenal world will draw you in and refuse to let you go. This is a voyage worth taking, no matter the stormy conditions.
FAR: Changing Tides is available for PS5 (review platform), PS4, Xbox One, Xbox Series X|S, PC and Nintendo Switch.
Publisher: Frontier Developments
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, a copy of the game was purchased. For our full review policy, please go here.
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