Games like Journey, Flower and Inside leave each player's soul imprinted with something special, and in part that's because, despite their mechanical simplicity, they offer a clear and unflinching objective. Games like these want to tell subtle stories through effective environmental tools and simple but well-balanced mechanics. Many have tried, but few succeed, which has lifted those that do manage it up to iconic status.
The developer Okomotive released FAR: Lone Sails on PC last year and on PS4 and Xbox One last month, and it's trying to achieve much the same thing. What's more, even though our review is a bit late in recognising its achievements, this "little" experience deserves to be on the same shelf as the games we've just mentioned.
In FAR: Lone Sails, you play as a nameless figure (who resembles a miniature version of the main character from Journey) who leaves his home after it has become worn away by strong winds, droughts, hail and other environmental hazards. The character manages to leave by manoeuvring a so-called 'okomotive', a vehicle that was once a symbol of a civilised, industrialised world but that is now nothing more than the last remnants of that world.
The entirety of the game is played in 2D, so it's seen from the side, and it's up to you to escape your sad life with the help of your okomotive - this, however, doesn't just happen by itself. An okomotive uses fuel that you encounter as you progress (it uses steam but you also need to keep the sails up) - there are a number of processes at play that are all operated by hitting large red buttons that are positioned around the vehicle. The tasks are small but they have to be taken care of continuously and as you go through the game, more mechanics are added.
These tasks, however, don't mean that the game is open or that it gives the player more power over the pace of the experience - this is still a cinematic, linear game with a set tempo, designed to bring you from start to finish in a relatively predetermined manner. The actual maintenance of your okomotive, however, means that you are much more invested than you would be when playing Limbo, for example. Although the influence is just an illusion, you feel like you have the power to control whether or not your okomotive will run at all and how smooth the journey will be.
There are also puzzles to figure out outside of the vehicle. You can end up getting stuck in the mud or bumping into a wall, forcing you to clear the road ahead. The puzzles never get very sophisticated, but they never get in the way of you and the story, the music or the design of the game either. Rather, they act as a natural extension.
The puzzles aren't the best part either, because the people at Okomotive have managed to create an experience that both looks stunning visually and sounds incredible. As you can see from screens and trailers, the game combines hand-drawn backgrounds with animated 3D graphics, and even though the colour palette is limited, it's wonderful to look at. It's almost as if the studio was inspired by Ubisoft's UbiArt graphics engine to create this visual identity. In addition, composer Joel Schoch, who is not only a perfect fit for this experience, should be on the radar of anyone who is looking for electronic soundscapes and symphonic magnificence.
FAR: Lone Sails is not a very long journey to complete. In fact, it only spans a few hours and we were left wanting more. We felt as though the potential of the game hadn't been fully realised as the end credits started rolling. In addition, we also wanted the okomotive to get an extra upgrade or two, strengthening the incentive to maintain it throughout the journey. The game might be a short one, but it most definitely deserves your attention. The team behind it is worth keeping an eye on and we're sure that they can deliver something even grander one day. We're already looking forward to that future, and we already miss our okomotive.