The cliffhanger is a staple of storytelling. We usually encounter it as a story, chapter or episode comes to an end with the effect of urging us onto the next instalment (or leaving us hanging and wondering what happens next). Far from Noise takes all of that and flips it on its head. It starts with the literal cliffhanger of a car teetering on the edge of a precipice overlooking the ocean. What follows is not an action-packed scene of dramatic rescue or escape. Instead, we are presented with an introspective experience as our main character contemplates her life and what brought her to this point.
And she does so by having a conversation with a deer.
If that all sounds atypical for a game, that is because it is far from your typical game. It unfolds like a one act play in an avant-garde theatre, only one in which you have control over parts of the dialogue. In the beginning, our female driver is alone and thinking out loud. Yellow text bubbles appear above the car to be clicked on to advance the story. At times, a choice of two or three thoughts pop up, offering the chance to go into a mad panic, be pessimistic about the situation, or try to brazenly dismiss the severity of your predicament. Small creatures and forces of nature start to show up (seemingly influenced by your choices), as does the aforementioned deer, who strikes a poetic contemplative tone as the story unfolds.
Recent years have seen a swathe of ‘walking simulators’ and ‘story-rich, choices matter’ titles released, and Far from Noise fuses both concepts together (only replacing the walking with sitting in a car…on the edge of a cliff). As such, the key to this game is not based on survival or success – it all lies in the dialogue, the characters, and the setting. Fortunately for this game, the script and the characters are well-written. The different dialogue/thought options succeed in creating a different tone for the game. On my first playthrough, I went for the panic-stricken options and let the deer guide me towards inner peace. Returning to the start of the game again, I took a more happy-go-lucky approach when alone and a more sarcastic tone with the antlered philosopher, duly witnessing a story of a markedly different tone.
This is not a story of what happened. We never fully discover how our driver ended up in this difficult spot. A backstory of family issues, a lack of acceptance, and uncertainty about the future is alluded to but not spelled out, and in some endings, the driver’s fate remains unknown. This is in fact a philosophical look at our place in the world. The deer invites us to explore the horizon and think beyond the confines of our immediacy to appreciate life itself (and you should heed his words – the game comes to an abrupt and dramatic end if you don’t!).
I found the pacing to be an issue, however. I am all for story-rich games, as long as the narrative engages me. While Far From Noise is well-written, the text is slow to appear at times. On a couple of occasions, after waiting for an extended period for a new thought bubble to appear, only three dots showed up with a few more seconds passing before another option appeared. The slow and thoughtful approach started to drag at times. Indeed, after my initial playthrough, which lasted around 90 minutes, I did not find myself especially interested in returning to the game to explore other options and endings. It was only in the interests of this review that I did so, but the second time around, I enjoyed the story more.
One final criticism that is often levelled at these kind of games is how the dialogue choices of the player actually affect the game. My second playthrough was quite different from the first, but that is only because I made a conscious decision to choose the other options. I have no idea why that then resulted in a strong wind jolting my car rather than a squirrel jumping on it. There are also set pieces in the story that you will end up clicking through no matter how your thoughts and the conversation with the deer develop, which limit the illusion of player control over the direction of this tale.
The setting is simple but beautiful. The car serenely bobs up and down on the edge of the cliff, almost in direct contradiction to the peril at hand. The ocean glitters, the wind rustles in the leaves of a nearby tree, and the sunset gives way to the stars in the night sky. A distinct artistic style adds to the atmosphere. Occasional additions and changes to the scenery are used to sparing but striking effect as animals appear, the weather changes, and rose-tinted clouds pass overhead, all supported by simple but effective sound effects. Subtle moments of panning and zooming complement sudden changes of viewpoint to move the narrative along.
The only issues visually are the constantly circling blue tweeting birds and the yellow fish. They appear larger and smaller but without the necessary depth perspective to make it seem as though they are moving further away or coming close. You will even see the fish swim over the grass and the car, which breaks the immersive effect just a little.
Far from Noise is an intriguing game. It takes a bold approach to telling its story, ignoring most gaming conventions and mechanics and emphasising deep moments of thought over traditional narrative. It is definitely not a title that will appeal to all though. Even if you are a fan of story-rich and dialogue-heavy games or narrative-based indie titles, you may not get into this game. If the above sounds intriguing, however, you may find yourself experiencing a gem of indie storytelling.
Developer: George Batchelor
Publisher: George Batchelor
Platform: PC, PS4
Release Date: 14th November 2017