Need to know
What is it? An atmospheric puzzle game in which you sail a boat across a submerged world.
Expect to pay: $20/£15
Publisher: Frontier Foundry
Reviewed on: Intel Core i7-10750H, 16GB RAM, GeForce RTX 2060
Where its predecessor was about crossing a dried-up seabed, Far: Changing Tides presents you with the opposite problem: There’s really rather a lot of water here, so much that civilisation has seemingly washed away on the tide. What remains is you and your boat, which you acquire shortly after the game begins. As you get to grips with the boat’s chimeric nature—it is really several different vehicles, including a steam train, jammed inelegantly together—Far keeps unveiling new surprises, opening up the scope of its sidescrolling world. By the end of the game, I knew every nuance of the vessel. It’s the most rewarding boat I’ve steered across a videogame ocean.
When you liberate the boat—by physically leaping aboard, and heaving the sail into a vertical position—the only things you have to worry about are the wind and natural or man-made obstacles. The latter are generally cleared by hopping back off the boat and solving (mostly intuitive) mechanical puzzles, while the wind is something you manage from atop the deck. It’s a simple enough system—you drag the sail around in response to an ever-changing breeze—but the way the water lurches realistically in response to the shifting wind makes it feel like you’re really battling the currents.
Multiple times, Changing Tides pulls back on the puzzling to allow you the simple joy of sailing for surprisingly lengthy stretches of time. The soundtrack fades away, and beautiful vistas of sunsets, floating towns and polar wildlife pass by in the background. It’s just you and the ocean, as you keep one eye on the horizon and one hand gently tempering the wind. Between stretches of hectic boat management, and after the occasional head-scratching puzzle, these moments of pure sailing are a just—and hugely satisfying—reward.
Pretty soon your boat is outfitted with a great clanking steam engine, which you power up with bits of junk found out in the world. You heave this fuel into the furnace and bounce on the bellows to light it up, causing mechanical oars to push the boat along, with no need for the wind. It’s here that Changing Tides approaches a ship management game, like FTL or Sea of Thieves, but with one overworked captain assuming every single blasted role on the boat.
Occasionally, all the darting back and forth can be stressful—work the bellows too hard and the engine will overheat, meaning you have to run to the hose and use it to cool the engine down—but I don’t think there’s a way to fail the game, to die, or to completely run out of fuel. You may be stalled for a few minutes while you cast around for scattered bits of junk—laboriously carrying them one-by-one to the bowels of the boat—but they always seem to crop up when you need them.
Of course, just when you’re getting the hang of things, Changing Tides pulls the rug from under you. The next upgrade after the steam engine turns the vessel into a submarine, letting you plunge under islands, icebergs and other massive things to continue your relentless journey toward the right of the screen.
It’s not a huge change, mechanically, but it means you now have to make time for moving the vessel up and down in order to pass through underwater caves and facilities. While it’s true that you can’t fail, for example by damaging the boat on a rock, it can be a pain to reverse the boat, or to restore momentum if you hit an obstacle and slow to a crawl. In Far: Changing Tides, you generally pay for mistakes with frustrations like these.
And yet, it’s not too severe a game. You might have many roles on the boat, but the important switches are situated close together. And all the manual operation builds a close connection between you and the rusty mass of metal and wood, which is what makes those moments of open sailing feel so meaningful.
Every so often, you need to dive into the deep for supplies, or hop onto some giant structure to yank switches, push boxes, and do other puzzley things. It’s here where Changing Tides turns into a more conventional puzzle-platformer, and a slightly less interesting game. I’d say the puzzles are pitched about right, being not so challenging you’ll be stuck for days, or so easy they feel like a waste of time, but the commitment to minimalism can make it difficult to figure out your goals.
There’s no text in the game (other than some very early tutorial messages), and no gentle nudges in the right direction if you do get stuck. While I generally appreciate the lack of handholding, sometimes it can be tricky to decipher what Changing Tides wants from you exactly. Is this giant tube thing a battery? And I need to power it up, I guess? Things you can use or move are helpfully tinted blue, so trial and error will usually get you there, but many of the puzzles only made sense in hindsight.
But while the puzzles aren’t exceptional, they do well enough at the job they have obviously been put there for: breaking up the action while giving you the chance to stretch your legs. When I finally got back in the boat, I was eager to fire up the engine and push the vessel onwards.
You’re in it for a long time, by the way. Every time I thought I was nearing the end, Changing Tides kept topping itself, throwing surprise after wondrous surprise at me. This is a game of multiple peaks, like the moment you first plunge under the water, or when you lift an entire city out of the depths. I stared open-mouthed at one late-game moment. It’s only when the ending finally comes that you realise why you’re doing this, why you’ve undertaken this journey. And it does feel like a journey, more so than many games with bigger worlds and greater freedom of exploration.
It all comes back to those moments, those empty stretches of sailing the open sea. It’s just you, the boat, some lovely scenery and the shifting winds. It’s an emptiness that makes this peaceful post-apocalypse feel far bigger than it actually is.