Friday, November 6, 2020

Console Corner: Review of Far: Lone Sails

Shorter Review: If FTL and Journey had a steampunk(ish) lovechild after the apocalypse.

Longer Review: Journey is one of my favorite Playstation games of all time. Simplicity equaling zen elegance in its case, the bare bones of the game's setup gives the player room for reflection on the state of the world you traverse and the purpose of your actions as they compile, leading to an overall experience that transcends most games. Rather than frenetic button-mashing, it's tranquility extends beyond the moment. Okomotive's 2019 Far: Lone Sails is quite different in terms of its world and gameplay, but offers something equally meditative.

Throwing players into the proverbial deep end of the pool, Lone Sails begins with the player controlling a hooded person inside a homemade contraption that is part boat, engine, land crawler, and behemoth. The 2D, cross-section allows the player to move around inside, controlling the engine, brakes, firehose, sails, winch, and fuel tank. Bits of post-apocalyptic debris litter the road, and need to be collected as fuel to propel the behemoth when it runs out. Death not possible, it's the players job to figure their way through the various , obstacles and puzzles, maintaining the behemoth momentum all the while.

With its muted palette and minimalist art, Lone Sails looks like Inside. The mostly rural, sometimes industrial post-apocalyptic backdrop is likewise similar. Like graphics, the game's music is likewise a simple but effective affair, its speed and melody picking up when the vehicle gains speed, and slowing down when obstacles are met or the brakes are applied. Complementing gameplay, it's easy to say the music adds to the ruminative atmosphere of the game, much like Journey's.

One interesting facet of Lone Sails is that it is an extremely child-friendly game. All of the possible actions in the game quite simple, my six-year old played this without problem, and in the process came to care for the vehicle he was maintaining—an attitude I hope he takes toward many things in his life. Where initially he crashed into barricades and buildings, which required stopping for repairs, he eventually came to protect it like a real vehicle—cautious with speed, making sure the fuel tank was full, and happy when it performed optimally. The gadgets the player adds to the vehicle throughout the course of the game were just the cherry on the top for him.

There are a couple issues with Far: Lone Sails. The first and foremost is that the game feels partially incomplete. That is a strong way of stating the problem considering the game, the setting, and the mechanisms follow a natural evolution that feels right.

At its conclusion, Journey arrives at a point largely spiritual or sacred. Lone Sails likewise ends on a transcendent note, but one more personal and perhaps environmental. As with my son, the care and maintenance invested in the vehicle complement the sense of distance the player has traveled and obstacles overcome, resulting in a feeling of personal accomplishment and pride. This feeling something that most games offer through defeating tough bosses or getting a combination of button pushes correct, Lone Sails delivers this with something less immediate that sticks with the player after the credits have rolled. The details of this feeling not concrete, its more an evocation that leaves a sense of satisfaction, wonder, and concern for the world the player has just journeyed through.

In the end, Far: Lone Sails is not a AAA action-packed title to get your thumbs twitching. It is for that group of gamers who want to truly relax and immerse themselves in a more meditative experience. Feeling the wind, figuring your way through some minor puzzles, fixing your vehicle when it breaks, and sitting back to enjoy the ride when all parts are clicking, it's +/-3 hours of couch-comfort relaxation that will have you feeling some strange sense of connection to the vehicle you've built and the landscape you've traversed when the final scene arrives. If you like Journey, Inside or Abzu, this is a game for you.

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