What is that? An atmospheric puzzle game in which you sail on a boat through a submerged world.
Expect to pay: $20/£15
Editor: Frontier Foundry
Reviewed on: Intel Core i7-10750H, 16GB RAM, GeForce RTX 2060
Where its predecessor was all about traversing a dry seabed, Far: Changing Tides presents you with the opposite problem: there really is a lot of water here, so much so that civilization has seemingly washed away the tide. What’s left is you and your boat, which you acquire shortly after starting the game. As you become familiar with the chimerical nature of the boat – it’s actually several different vehicles , including a steam train, stuck together inelegantly – Far continues to unveil new surprises, opening up the scope of its side-scrolling world. By the end of the game, I knew all the nuances of the ship. It’s the most rewarding boat I’ve sailed on a gaming ocean.
When you release the boat – by physically jumping on board and hoisting the sail into an upright position – the only things you need to worry about are the wind and natural or man-made obstacles. The latter are usually cleared by jumping off the boat and solving (mostly intuitive) mechanical puzzles, while the wind is something you manage from atop the deck. It’s a fairly simple system – you drag the sail in response to an ever-changing breeze – but the way the water realistically sways in response to the changing wind makes it feel like you’re really battling the currents.
Many times Changing Tides backtracks on the puzzle to allow you the sheer pleasure of sailing for surprisingly long periods of time. The soundtrack fades, and magnificent views of sunsets, floating cities, and polar wildlife roll by in the background. It’s just you and the ocean, as you keep one eye on the horizon and one hand gently tempering the wind. Between periods of hectic boat management and after the occasional headache, those moments of pure sailing are a just and hugely satisfying reward.
Soon, your ship is fitted with a great clanking steam engine, which you power with pieces of scrap metal discovered in the world. You lift this fuel into the furnace and bounce off the bellows to ignite it, causing mechanical oars to push the boat, not needing the wind. This is where Changing Tides takes on a ship management game, like FTL or Sea of Thieves, but with an overworked captain taking on every damn role on the ship.
Sometimes all the back and forth can be stressful – work too hard on the bellows and the motor will overheat, meaning you’ll have to run to the hose and use it to cool the motor – but I don’t think that there is a way to fail the game, die or run out of fuel completely. You can be stuck for a few minutes as you search for scattered bits of scrap metal – laboriously transporting them one by one through the bowels of the boat – but they always seem to pop up when you need them.
Of course, just when you’re getting to grips with things, Changing Tides pulls the rug out from under you. The next upgrade after the steam engine turns the ship into a submarineallowing you to dive under islands, icebergs and other massive things to continue your relentless journey to the right of the screen.
It’s not a huge change, mechanically, but it does mean that you now have to take the time to move the ship up and down in order to pass through caves and underwater facilities. While it is true that you cannot fail, for example by damaging the boat on a rock, it can be painful to reverse or regain momentum if you hit an obstacle and slow down to a crawl. In Far: Changing Tides, you usually pay for mistakes with frustrations like these.
And yet, it is not too severe a game. You can have many roles on the boat, but the important switches are located close to each other. And all the manual operations create a close bond between you and the rusty mass of metal and wood, which makes those moments of open sailing so meaningful.
Every once in a while you have to dive into the depths for supplies or jump on a giant structure to pull switches, push boxes, and do other confusing things. It’s here that Changing Tides turns into a more conventional puzzle-platformer, and a slightly less interesting game. I’d say the puzzles are about right, not being so difficult that you’ll be stuck for days, or so easy that they seem like a waste of time, but the commitment to minimalism can make it hard to figure out of your goals.
There’s no in-game text (apart from some very early tutorial messages), and no slight nudges in the right direction if you get stuck. While I generally appreciate the lack of hands-on experience, it can sometimes be difficult to decipher exactly what Changing Tides wants from you. Is this giant tube a battery? And I need to power it up I guess? Things you can use or move are helpfully tinted blue, so trial and error will usually get you there, but many puzzles only make sense in hindsight.
But while the puzzles aren’t exceptional, they do quite well the job they were obviously put there to do: break up the action while giving you the chance to stretch your legs. When I finally got back in the boat, I was eager to fire up the engine and push the ship forward.
You’ve been in it a long time, by the way. Every time I thought I was nearing the end, Changing Tides kept outdoing itself, throwing surprise after wonderful surprise at me. It’s a game of multiple peaks, like the moment you first dive underwater, or when you lift an entire city out of the depths. I stared in awe at a late game moment. It’s only when the end finally comes that you realize why you’re doing this, why you’ve embarked on this journey. And that Is feel like a journey, more so than many games with bigger worlds and more freedom to explore.
It’s all about those moments, those empty stretches of open sea sailing. It’s just you, the boat, beautiful scenery and the changing winds. It’s a void that makes this peaceful post-apocalypse feel much bigger than it actually is.