Video games have a wonderful habit of touching on tough subjects in the most unique fashion sometimes. Should that be titles such Hellblade: Senua’s Sacrifice touching on psychosis, The Town of Light heavily talking about mental health throughout, The Cat Lady taking a stance on suicide, Sym looking at social anxiety, and The Mull Littoral looking into anxiety. They all focus on telling a story by merging gameplay and story elements in conjunction with the selected mental health having some form of a hindrance on the progression, or dialogue.
Far From Noise from developer George Batchelor, is one of these titles to fall under the category of subtly exploring depression by shifting the conversation between how you react to the current situation, but talks about life and death and how we perceive our perspective on situations that unfold in our lives.
Now, the review ahead will talk a bit about depression, and it will go into detail in regards to spoilers, so if you want to have the experience of the title without having the game ruined for you, then I suggest you only read the next paragraph as I’ll condense everything into that, and then the rest of the review will go further into the game. It’s a title that’s available on the PS4, PC, and iOS, and the following is from my time with the PC version.
To nutshell it, Far From Noise is a quickly completed, but drawn out artistic journey that is told through interactive dialogue options as you’re the unseen, never-seen protagonist, a female who is trapped inside your beloved car that you can either choose to name, or not name. The car has become stuck on the edge of a cliff face, tilting back and forth between safety, and a fall to her death. Whilst lingering there with her fate undetermined, and talking out loud to herself, she finds herself exchanging in conversation with a passing deer who is able to respond back to her. However the philosophical deer appears to hold a deeper meaning for being there with her, and as they watch the horizon pass from evening, to night, to the next day, they have a deep, meaningful conversation about life, death, and the meaning behind the way we perceive situations.
Sound good to you? Give it a try if you like the sound of it, then return here for the below review if you don’t want the way the story pans out to be ruined.
Far From Noise introduces you to a car with a driver within who has found themselves somehow on the edge of a cliff face. Tilting back and forth. The protagonist begins to talk out loud to herself as I’m sure most of us do when we find ourselves in situations alone. The narrative driven by you choosing from various dialogue options which to start with don’t seem to mean anything other than choosing between comedic options or more pessimistic routes. The game plays out in a way that finds you unsure if you’re meant to actually be clicking parts of the environment to activate the next part of the dialogue, but it eventually becomes clear that the dialogue is being spaced out to grasp your attention and shift your attention onto analysing the non-interactive environments.
After some witty remarks to herself, the unnamed protagonist notices a deer approaching her vehicle, then she notices that it is just standing there, looking out to the setting sun. She begins to jokingly exchange a one-sided conversation with the deer, asking it if it can help her in a sarcastic manner, although with hope coming through in her words. In a shocking twist, the deer responds to her causing her to believe that she’s hallucinating or being visited by an angel of death. The deer talks to her with incredible intellect, a wise deer sharing sage advice and questioning why the woman is in her current situation, and finding out why she’s so concerned about the notion of death, and being negative.
The gameplay focuses literally on just clicking a choice of dialogue (or using the arrow keys/WASD keys to select) and then watching moments unfold around you, such as a frog riding away on a tortoise, a heavy storm, and even looking to the stars. While the majority of the game finds you viewing the same view, there are moments in which the camera adds some form of movement, and even surreal moments, one in particular where your car floats off from the ground whilst you focus on the horizon and you just hover there looking to the distance, and another in which constellations have a visible line appear, connecting the stars.
Whilst pleasant to look at, the dialogue in Far From Noise is what draws your attention to the right/centre middle third of the screen; and while the lengthy breaks in-between comedic, and thought provoking conversations are clearly offering you the chance to self reflect, you do find yourself wandering when the next bit of dialogue piece will progress the narrative. In one particular instance, after a mindful topic has been discussed, the protagonist and deer sit atop the cliff face, looking out to the horizon, and then for the first time in the whole game the camera cuts to be facing the characters from the front so that they’re looking towards you as the camera pans out to reveal the sheer size of the mountainous drop. However this goes on for far too long as a sequence and you begin to anticipate credits rolling, and wonder when the games going to finish. But it doesn’t, it cuts back to the previous shot and thus a conversation reignites.
You eventually begin to delve deeper into who your protagonist is whilst still being able to maintain a comical tone to the way the conversation flows, and then learn that she has dropped out of University due to feeling as if she’s unable to fulfil her dream. You’re given three subjects to choose from to change the future dialogue options, for me, out of Marine Biology, Architecture, and Film, I chose the, “Film” subject which led me down a conversation of realising that my protagonist enjoys creatively .portraying her vision of the world through her own direction. It eventually leads to the two characters talking about how we see the world, and how we look at situations we find ourselves in and if we’re worrying about things, perhaps we should change our perspective and realise that all isn’t as bad as it may seem.
The ending of Far From Noise is a cliffhanger in which the Deer finally parts ways with you, clearly when it feels like you’ve reached a level of realisation that it can leave you to your thoughts, and then after some dialogue clicking around, the screens horizontal black bars along the top and bottom begin to close in together until they reveal no more than about an inch of the world you’ve just spent the past half an hour or so looking at. Then they open again, revealing the car to have vanished leaving you to question in your own mind whether or not you would have accepted your fate and fallen off of the cliff, or whether the engine finally fixed itself overnight, — an issue that happens with the car the protagonist says throughout the narrative — and then was able to drive away.
Graphically Far From Noise is rather flat in terms of lighting, and the low-poly world offers simplicity so it’s not too distracting while you’re taking in all the information being fed to you through speech bubbles. Yellow speech bubbles indicate your characters words, blue/greyish speech bubble indicate your characters actions, and red ones indicating fear and panic from the protagonist. The Deer’s words are shown as white text within the bottom black bar, almost like a subtitle, but does run into the problem of being a bit of a fair distance away from the speech bubbles. There are a couple of moments in which meaningful poems or quotes are displayed across the centre of the screen.
Colour wise the overall theme is rather pastel coloured, but the hue of the world changes depending on the time of day, with the clarity of colours in the day, then the sunset bringing a warm overtone, followed by a blueish, de-saturated tint overnight.
The world has life flowing through it, with the sun delicately setting as the conversation progresses, and birds flying in a disguised, possibly randomised loop in the top left of the frame above a tree that flows in the wind, and other creatures of nature appear in the bottom right area of the frame wandering around. Weather elements appear in too, with the camera wobbling depending on how vigorous the weather effect is, for example, a lightning storm causes a large wobbling effect until it passes. The sea ahead of you also glimmers in the moonlight and sunlight, and well, it’s a very pretty game to look at. You do notice some sudden jump from animations rather than smoothly flowing from static to moving, and the tilting of the car can sometimes bother you a little bit…if you want to focus on physics.
The audio in Far From Noise is wonderful although seems to be a bit confusing in regards to music. The majority of the game is musicless from what I can tell, with the sounds of the waves below crashing, and the delicate wind flowing past. However occasionally a few pieces from the composed soundtrack ring out bringing some emotional connection to whatever has been mentioned by flowing along with the narrative, but just suddenly flowing in kind of ended up feeling out of place despite sounding beautiful. The audio quality is high quality as well and gives you a sense of immersion as you lose yourself amongst the vastness of the horizon before you. There’s no character speech, so whatever you read is given a voice by yourself internally.
I managed to play through Far From Noise and finish it in 75 minutes, and then I played it a second time to change the dialogue options up, which ended up with a similar time frame to finish it, but you find that despite how the dialogue changes depending on chosen responses, it always falls back onto the main narrative line, with different dialogue options basically branching you away from main line, but then falling back to join it. It just performs a different, “dance” so to speak. It’s a title I imagine you could only really play once of twice due to the lack of change in story with only a few events taking place, such a squirrel climbing your car if you ignore it, but if you honk your horn it’ll run away, then the narrative returns to the main line.
Far From Noise is fantastic, and a very well presented experience, and I wouldn’t see it as a game, but more of an interactive work of art. It puts you in control of a characters voice, guiding you to become connected to their thoughts, eventually assigning their thoughts to your own, and that’s where the magic lies. In that while seeing your characters situation, you visualise yourself in that situation, and the game drives you to think about how you see life yourself. It’s just a shame that the intervals can take a long period of time to pass, and can not be skipped, But it’s an experience that made me really question how I look at things, and take a deep look within myself. I’m going to award Far From Noise A Silver Thumb Culture Award.
Disclaimer: A code was received in order to write this review.