As game fans, we all believe deeply in going from left to right. If we waste a whole day gaming, and feel like we’ve got nothing done, no one can deny we did at least go from left to right. And if a game’s story is limp and can’t find any import for its platform contrivances, it can at least fall back on the old adage that “it’s the journey (from left to right), not the destination (right)”. Okomotive’s first game was about driving a huge, convoluted truck from left to right. The sheer left-to-right impetus of the whole game was overwhelming. For the follow-up, FAR: Changing Tides, they’ve kept both left and right, but they’ve added down and up, and this will blow your mind.
FAR: Changing Tides is puzzle-flavoured, low-jeopardy exploration in side-scrolling 2.5D. The world of FAR is desolate and ruined. A civilisation, suddenly gone, leaves wreckage of homely communities and steampunky high technology to be explored by your lonesome protagonist. Extreme weather is pushing you from your home, and others have ventured ahead of you, their outcomes bleak. Whereas in FAR: Lone Sails, you geed a massive car rightwards for a faintly nodded-at reason, in FAR: Changing Tides, you will captain a water vessel instead, for an equally vague purpose. Whether you find that kind of storytelling profound or lazy, the imaginative work of the narrative is going to fall to you. There are, however, enough good sets, props and gloriously apt musical cues that if the story isn’t engaging, it’s probably your fault.
Audio and graphical design are delightful, with the grandeur of nature refusing to be glum just because the people within it have found themselves in trouble. The story beats are the moments of new discovery, rather than character arcs or plot developments. Throughout them, your craft and its world look fantastic, exemplary sound design makes everything tactile, then a brilliantly composed musical score hits home every time it's needed. The music is ready to go big, which is vital, because the whole game trades on its grand scale.
FAR: Changing Tides presents a hulking craft that must be moved for miles through a vast and unforgiving world. Its great achievement is making the player feel that epic scale. Size, of course, is relative: a disgustingly large slug is smaller than an adorably little pig. (We hope.) To make a game world or character big, then, requires a context of some sort, a point of reference. That reference for Changing Tides is the player character, the person scurrying about inside the craft to drive it. You are asked to take that person outside the craft to plumb depths and scale towers. These sections of platforming and puzzling convincingly establish a world that was made by and for people of that size. Each time we returned to our craft, it felt huge again. When you have to actually platform-game your way around inside the boat to drive it, you know the thing really is building-sized.
A brilliant benefit of this is that grinding inertia needn’t be the only trick to communicate the great mass of your craft. The manoeuvrability of the hulk is suitably stubborn, but it will also stop dead very obediently, making the traversal of the trickier crannies fun, when it might have been infuriating. If all we had was this carefully nerfed inertia then the boat wouldn’t feel quite massive enough – because of that concession to controllability – but as you scramble from one part of the engine room to another to slam on the brakes, the momentum is felt intricately.
All this is a cut above the predecessor, FAR: Lone Sails. A lot of the same factors were present, but that vehicle was fundamentally one-dimensional, rolling left-to-right. In Changing Tides, Okomotive make use of the water’s depths as your craft develops, better matching the player-character’s own scope of movement. The impetus feels more gigantic, the control more immersive, and the familiarity with your vehicle more intimate.
And the physical feel of the game is indeed matched by its emotional feel. The items you scavenge to feed your boiler range from clearly fuel-like canisters to the personal suitcases and once-beloved keepsakes of long-gone strangers. The semi-automated fuel-feeding mechanism helps you prioritise clearly what you intend to burn. Canisters and nondescript bundles can go first, then cherished personal effects only if unavoidable (or the reverse, if something has made you that way). This makes no difference at all in gameplay terms. If it makes a difference, it’s only in your terms, which are the most convincing terms.
So, where does Changing Tides struggle? Unfortunately, it’s with its first impressions. The opening section has the hero without a vehicle, introducing basic controls to move in the water and on platforms. The job of teaching the player to move – something rock-solidly established in absolutely any competent platformer of at least the last decade – is fumbled. The first lesson, to jump out of the water, happens at an overhanging lip of a rooftop, which isn’t easy to spot and is more catchy than other such juts in the environment. The lesson for jumping bigger gaps has a recovery ladder if failed, but the ladder-climbing lesson comes after the jump is cleared. Compounding that, grabbing ladders – especially in the water – is fidgety and unintuitive. In fact, once we were into the game, we settled on just constantly switching from analogue stick in the water to D-pad on dry ground, so pedantic are the expectations of pushing exactly upwards. For a game that succeeds in its pioneering territory of macro-scale control and play-feel, it’s a tremendous shame that the rudiments come up short. However, this foible, once understood, is dwarfed by the achievements of the game’s core, and can’t mar the wonders that eventually arrive.
Partly for this reason, we’d say that playing Lone Sails before Changing Tides is so highly recommended as to be almost essential. That first game is beautiful, affecting and fun, and serves as a sound tutorial that will let you step right into Changing Tides and appreciate its world and its achievements to the full. However, there’s no doubt that Changing Tides is the better game. It’s like Okomotive made a list of all the good things in Lone Sails, brainstormed ways to make each at least twice as good, then delivered. But it would still be best to play them both, in order.
Like Lone Sails before it, the Switch port of FAR: Changing Tides is exemplary. The graphics are crisp and the action fluid. The game will occasionally reduce your character to a speck within the loomingly vast world, so be ready for that when playing handheld – but there’s a zoom button if you’ve lost your reading glasses.
A wonderful experience from the moment you set sail, FAR: Changing Tides builds out the world and gameplay ideas of its predecessor with scale, detail and awesome moments of discovery. Okomotive has started with its original neat mechanic about a left-to-right juggernaut, then taken it in every other direction it could go.