It can be difficult to find time to finish a video game, especially if you only have a few hours a week to play. In our biweekly column Short Play we suggest video games that can be started and finished in a weekend.
Starting a game with a cold open — no title screen, no options — is risky. It’s something that could very likely be confusing. But in Far: Lone Sails, it sets the expectation that you, the player, are the impetus for everything. Nothing will happen unless you do something first, and you are going to have to do everything yourself. It’s fitting considering the lonesome post-apocalyptic landscapes of the game’s setting.
Your time in Far is generally split between managing various systems to keep your giant vehicle moving through the barren environment and puzzle platforming sections where you are exploring ruins to open up pathways for the vehicle to continue its journey. In both cases, nothing is really explained to you about how to get the vehicle moving or how you might get a giant wall to move out of your way, aside from the three button prompts the game uses to teach you how to jump, pick up items, and zoom in the camera. This forces you to experiment. The game’s design encourages this since there aren’t really any harsh penalties for messing up or taking too long, aside from the game taking longer to finish.
How the vehicle works is a good example of this. It’s full of big red buttons that all do different things. What you eventually figure out from running or jumping into them is how the vehicle’s different systems work: there is a balancing act to manage them in order to keep the vehicle moving. There is a button that powers up the engine to make the vehicle move, but it unsticks every so often so you have to keep pushing it back in. There is also a limited amount of fuel, which you can add to by collecting items you’ll come across on the road or in ruins that you then feed into the fuel tank when needed. Steam also builds up as the engine is active, which needs to be released every so often, but also provides a small speed boost when you do.
If you can manage to keep all of these spinning plates going, then you’re rewarded with quickly getting to the next set of ruins blocking your path. But if you keep forgetting to push the engine’s power button in or to refuel, and it’ll slow down your progress. Run out of things to turn into fuel, and you’ll have to go walking a little ways to find some on the road. As you progress, you’ll settle into a rhythm — although this will likely happen just as a new part for the vehicle is added, which makes things a little easier and more complicated. Sails let you cruise through windy areas without using fuel if you don’t mind moving slowly, or very fast if you want to use the engine with it as well.
You’ll find these parts in the ruins that impede your journey. Although, despite ostensibly being obstacles, the ruins also serve as a respite from the plate-spinning required by piloting your vehicle. The ruins feature platforming puzzles that unlock the next leg of the journey, while also giving you the opportunity to collect some fuel to load in your vehicle. It’s also a good chance to take in your surroundings; you can see the changing landscape as you drive your vehicle, but you often don’t get to take it in and register what is going on since you are so focused on keeping things going. But at the ruins, you start to get a sense from the abandoned structures what the world was like before the apocalypse happened and the downfall of civilization since then.
Far: Lone Sails is a lonesome experience, but it’s also kind of a meditative one. It’s a bit like washing dishes without listening to something or talking to someone while you do it. You can find yourself getting lost in the monotony of the task, which lets your mind zone out. This might sound like a bad thing, but for me, it created a sort of focused-yet-relaxed state. By the end, even with all of the work, I didn’t feel stressed. Instead, that effort was a great way to unwind.