The last two months have been defined by massive, sprawling adventures that sap all of your free time (and part of your soul). As a result, this week I found myself gravitating towards a tighter, more focused game, that of Okomotive. Far: Changing the Tides.
Far: Changing the Tidesreleased earlier this month for PC, Switch, PlayStation and Xbox – and as part of the Game Pass library – is a 2018 sequel Far: Lone Sails, a gripping side-scrolling journey in which you travel vast distances in a creaky old starship. I expected as much Changing tides. What I didn’t expect, and what I was pleasantly surprised to learn, is that it’s also a deft and cleverly designed puzzle platformer, clearly from the ‘School of Playdead (Limbo, Inside).
Like almost everything with the Playdead pedigree (and its own predecessor, Lone Sails), Far: Changing the Tides opens when cold. As a silent and anonymous protagonist, you wake up underwater. You can apparently hold your breath indefinitely – a perk that, at least personally, has banished the creeping claustrophobia that tends to accompany underwater segments in video games. You end up breaking the surface.
That’s when I thought the game would give me a steampunk sailboat, because, you know, the whole “sailing gamething. Instead, I found myself jumping between the roofs of mostly submerged buildings. Far: Changing the Tides takes place in a post-apocalyptic setting where cities full of Mediterranean-style architecture have been submerged by a vague deluge of biblical proportions. There’s no immediate explanation for what happened, so jumping from rooftop to rooftop takes on an air of mystery.
But even that brief platforming segment didn’t lead me to a boat. No, no, the first came the wave of environmental puzzles.
A first puzzle sees you trapped in a garage. You have to pull an emergency release cable and hook it to an anchor on the back wall to let yourself out. Problem number one: the anchor is underwater. Problem number two: the cable itself isn’t, and there’s no way to reach it (because the player character is tiny). The solution then is simply to move a box under the cable, climb on it, grab the cable, dive underwater and hook it to the anchor. The witnessthis game isn’t, but the puzzles – which, hours later, were all of a similar scale and complexity – require just enough mental energy to stay Far: Changing the Tides engaging: navigation to the right side of the screen.
sailing in Far: Changing the Tides sounds tedious on paper, but in practice it clicks with a lovely cadence that pleasantly engages but never overwhelms. You can raise your mast and catch a breeze, further adjusting your sail pitch to speed up or slow down. But if you go up on a viaduct, you have to lower the mast, lest it be cut. And if there’s no wind, you’ll need to scavenge debris from the ocean floor and burn it – by jumping up and down on a bellows – to start an engine. But if you run out of fuel, you will stall. Everything is constantly breaking, catching fire, so you have to maintain some attention, but nothing up to the big blockbusters of the season. In the open sea, you can get away from it all. Everything will be alright.
Far: Changing the Tides features a striking museum-worthy art style, its steampunk designs done in a delightful oil paint aesthetic. The whole thing comes in the form of a placid and soulful puzzle game, played with the gentle and predictable swells of the tide charts, as if you were surfing the waves of an open ocean without a care, as it there is nothing more to worry about. We can only hope that the end of the world is so serene.