What it is? Atmospheric puzzle game in which you sail on a boat through a flooded world.
Expect payment: $20/£15
Publisher: Frontier Foundry
Review for: Intel Core i7-10750H 16GB RAM GeForce RTX 2060
Where its predecessor was about crossing a dry sea floor, Far: Change Tides presents you with the opposite problem: there really is quite a lot of water here, so much so that civilization is seemingly swept away by the tide. It remains only you and your boat, which you acquire shortly after the start of the game. As you master the chimerical nature of the boat – it’s actually several different vehicles, including a steam locomotive, ridiculously crammed together – Far continues to uncover new surprises as it uncovers the scope of its scrolling world. By the end of the game, I knew every nuance of the ship. This is the most useful boat I have ever sailed in the ocean of video games.
When you free the boat by physically jumping on board and raising the sail to a vertical position, the only thing you have to worry about is 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 control from the upper deck. It’s a simple enough system – you drag the sail in response to the ever-changing wind – but the way the water is swaying in response to the changing wind makes it feel like you’re really fighting the currents.
Several times, “Changing Tides” pushes back the puzzles to give you the simple joy of swimming for surprisingly long stretches of time. The soundtrack fades and beautiful views of sunsets, floating cities and polar wildlife float in the background. Just you and the ocean as you look out to the horizon and gently hold back the wind with one hand. In between hectic boat handling and after occasional jigsaw puzzles, these moments of pure sailing are a fair and very rewarding reward.
Pretty soon your boat will be equipped with a big clanking steam engine that you power with pieces of junk found in the world. You toss this fuel into the firebox and bounce on the bellows to ignite it, causing the mechanical oars to push the boat without needing the wind. This is where Changing Tides approaches a ship management game like FTL or Sea of Thieves, but with one overworked captain taking on every damn role on the boat.
Sometimes all the fussing back and forth can be stressful – pushing the bellows too hard and the engine will overheat, meaning you’ll have to run to the hose and use it to cool the engine – but I don’t think there’s a way to fail the game, die or run out of fuel completely. You can linger for a few minutes while you search for scattered pieces of junk, laboriously carrying them one by one into the bowels of the boat, but they always appear when you need them.
Of course, once you get the hang of it, “Changing Tides” will pull the carpet out from under you. The next upgrade after the steam engine turns the ship into Submarineallowing you to dive under islands, icebergs and other huge objects to continue your relentless journey to the right side of the screen.
Mechanically, this is a small change, but it means that you now need time to move the ship up and down to get through underwater caves and structures. While it’s true that you can’t fail by damaging your boat on a rock, for example, it can be difficult to turn the boat around or regain speed if you hit an obstacle and slow down to a crawl. In Far: Change Tides, you usually pay for mistakes with such disappointments.
Still, it’s not a very serious game. You can have many roles on a boat, but important switches are close together. And all the handwork creates an intimate bond between you and the rusty mass of metal and wood that makes those moments of open sailing so meaningful.
From time to time you need to dive into the depths for supplies or jump on some giant structure to pull switches, push boxes and do other puzzling things. This is where “Changing Tides” turns into a more conventional puzzle platformer and a slightly less interesting game. I’d say the puzzles are well put together, not so hard that you get stuck for days, or so simple that they seem like a waste of time, but sticking to minimalism can make it hard to define your goals.
And it really feels like a journey, more so than many games with bigger worlds and more freedom to explore.
The game has no text (other than some very early tutorial messages) and no gentle nudges in the right direction if you get stuck. While I generally appreciate the lack of hand support, it can sometimes be difficult to understand exactly what the Altering Tides wants from you. Is this giant tube a battery? And I need to turn it on I guess? Things you can use or move are helpfully colored 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 a good enough job of what they were obviously designed to do: interrupt the action while giving you a chance to stretch your legs. When I finally got back into the boat, I was itching to start the engine and push the boat forward.
By the way, you’ve been in it for a long time. Every time I thought I was nearing the end, The Changing Tides kept winning, giving me surprise after amazing surprise. It’s a game with multiple peaks, like the moment you dive underwater for the first time, or when you lift an entire city out of the depths. I watched with my mouth open at one point in the late game. It is only when the end finally comes that you understand why you are doing this, why you have taken this journey. And this does it feels like a journey, more so than many games with bigger worlds and more freedom to explore.
Everything returns to those moments, to those empty stretches of sailing on the high seas. Just you, the boat, beautiful scenery and changeable wind. It’s the void that makes this peaceful post-apocalyptic seem so much bigger than it actually is.