Far: Lone Sails is a haunting but tranquil 3-4 hour journey across a desolate landscape that will stick with you long after the credits roll
- Publisher: Mixtvision
- Developer: Okomotive
- Platform: PS4 (reviewed), Xbox One, PC, Mac OS
- Availability: Out Now
- Price: £11.99 (PS4), £12.49 (Xbox One), £11.39 (PC/Mac)
Loneliness is a difficult emotion for a video game to instil in the player. Happiness, frustration, angst, sadness, fear, they can all be conveyed convincingly to some degree. When it comes to fear, video games can arguably terrify their audience far more effectively than other forms of media. But loneliness is harder to capture. This may be because it’s not something that many games try to convey, there always needs to be NPCs to interact with, enemies to shoot, other players to cooperate with or to compete against. Some games have managed it though: for large parts of Journey (and for the whole game if you are unlucky with matchmaking) you are totally alone, in some online survival games like Day Z players will actively avoid each other, and outside of narrative devices players of Dear Esther are totally alone. All of these games have some sort of interaction with other people though, real or NPC. Not so in Far: Lone Sails.
The game opens with a little girl standing by the grave of her father in the midst of a post-apocalyptic landscape. Left alone completely you only have one possible objective -to travel… somewhere. Much as with Playdead’s duo of dark puzzle platformers Limbo and Inside (games from which Far: Lone Sails clearly took more than a little inspiration), you must keep pushing on towards the right side of the screen, unsure of where you are going and what you will find along the way. Unlike Limbo and Inside though, you will not be pursued by enemies or confronted by unspeakable horrors, you are totally alone in this desolate wasteland.
I say alone, you do have one companion of sorts: you travel across the dried up ocean floor that comprises the world of Far: Lone Sails in an improvised land ship, a giant hulking mass of wood and rickety machinery powered by wind and steam. The bulk of the game is made up of moving around the ship, feeding fuel to the engine, releasing steam buildups, putting out fires and repairing components, making regular stops to collect more fuel. There are brief moments when the wind picks up and you can raise your sails and relax as the desolate beauty of the wasteland passes by, but these moments are momentary breaks from the work of keeping your landship going.
The traversal of the wasteland is broken up regularly with set pieces that involve some light puzzle work, nothing more taxing that those in Limbo and Inside, but enough to make you scratch your head a little. The environments in which the puzzles take place are interesting and do a good job of environmental storytelling. One takes place inside a beached submarine, another on a huge drawbridge connecting two sides of an abandoned community, and another takes you through a graveyard of ships. These puzzles, as well as painting a picture of what might have been here before, also offer a welcome break from the complete and utter loneliness of travelling across the world. One minor puzzle in particular tasks you with dialling in a frequency on a transmitter, and for a brief time a nearby radio picks up a transmission of jazz music. I grabbed that radio and took it aboard the landship and travelled on uplifted by what little companionship music could offer, and was devastated when the signal fizzed out and was left alone with the clanks and whirs of the machinery.
The radio is one of a number of objects I collected during my journey that seemingly have no gameplay purpose. Sure, they can be fed to the furnace to help power the engine, but I kept hold of them all: a red letterbox, a small potted flower, an old book. I kept hold of them as reminders of what had been before whatever collapse had occurred. And what caused the collapse? What lead to the ocean drying up and all signs of human life to disappear? Far: Lone Sails never explicitly states, indeed there are no text or audio-logs anywhere in the game. But through clever use of environmental storytelling, especially during puzzle sections, hints are left of rapid developments of industry causing some sort of cataclysm. What is unclear, however, is what caused the settlements you pass, built on the dried-up ocean floor from the wreckage of ships, to be completely abandoned.
The only thing that is clear is the need to push onward, inexorably, towards the ambiguous conclusion of the game. After a couple of run ins with the hostile weather of the wasteland, an escape from a terrifying environmental hazard leads to the end of the game, and as the credits roll you are left unsure whether your journey has come to an end or not. What you are left with is the inescapable feeling of loneliness that dogs you through your whole journey. I have played games that have made me laugh, games that have made me cry, games that have made me feel uncomfortable, anxious, scared. But no game has truly made me feel as lonely as Far: Lone Sails. Lonely, but not sad. There is a feeling of hope throughout your 3 or 4 hour journey, that no matter how desolate and dead the wasteland may be, the little girl in the little read coat with her little bedroom decorated with little crayon drawings and mementos of her journey, tucked away in the corner of her rickety landship, exemplifies the hope that life will continue, somehow.
The version of Far: Lone Sails reviewed was a digital copy on the Playstation 4, provided by the publisher. Our review criteria and ethics policy can be found here.