Treading Water

HIGH Joel Schoch returns with a moving score.

LOW It oddly lacks momentum for a game about traveling.

WTF Getting stuck and having to reload saves multiple times

Although I didn’t formally review 2018’s Far: Lone Sails — developer Okomotive’s debut title and the predecessor to Far: Changing Tides — it stuck with me.

Light on narrative but heavy on art direction and mood, it featured an unnamed character traveling across a deserted landscape in a ‘truck’ of sorts. The truck had multiple switches and buttons to get it moving and required random junk on the path to be collected and fed into the engine as fuel. Lone Sails was partly a side-scrolling resource management adventure and partly an exercise in introspective solitude. In that journey it was just me, the vehicle, and the post-apocalyptic open road ahead. Even better? It was a tight experience that never overstayed its welcome.

Far: Lone Sails felt like a meditative stand-alone experience, so I was surprised when Okomotive announced a sequel that seemed to follow in the same footsteps. Or tire tracks, rather.

Changing Tides’s name is a bit tongue-in-cheek as the innovation here features traveling via a cobbled-together boat, rather than a cobbled-together truck. Deserted roads are exchanged for expansive waters and a protagonist who might (or might not?) be the same one from the first game.

Unfortunately for Changing Tides, swapping roads for seas is where the innovations end. The boat still has buttons and switches to activate, and it still requires random collected junk as fuel. However, in comparison to Lone Sails, there are even more toggles in what must be an effort to crank things up for a sequel. But, rather than being a welcome evolution, I often found myself frustrated with the increase in complicated problem-solving and frenzied running around that’s required to keep the boat moving.

During Lone Sails, I often felt a sense of whimsical adventure. Sure, I was moving around the truck flipping some switches and occasionally collecting garbage for fuel, but it felt humble and sincere. Once the truck was rolling, I could often sit back and gaze upon the deserted, yet beautiful, landscapes while soaking in Joel Schoch’s wondrous score.

Changing Tides feels like it wants to give me that experience, but it gets too bogged down in management to let me enjoy myself. To be fair, there are long stretches where I sailed through beautiful open waters, but I generally felt too busy, dashing around to pull this switch, jumping on that panel and putting out literal fires.

Also, for a game about traveling forward, Changing Tides sure does lack momentum. As mentioned, junk items in the environment need to be collected and fed to the engine as fuel. In Lone Sails there were a few moments of panic where I thought I’d run out of fuel, but perfectly-placed drops appeared just when I was feeling desperate. Later on, the truck received an upgrade to automatically suck junk up from the road, reducing the amount of times I’d have to stop rolling and scavenge.

In Changing Tides, my fuel ran totally dry multiple times, and I even had to reload previous saves more than once to attempt more fuel-efficient runs. I could manipulate the sails to let wind take me on my journey, but if the wind wasn’t blowing and I ran out of fuel, there was no way to get the boat moving.

Compounding this frustrating pacing is that I’d sometimes have to exit the ship and deep-dive for junk on the ocean floor. I’d swim to low depths over and over again, only to find nothing to use for fuel. When I did find junk, my character could only carry one piece at a time, so I’d deep-dive, pick up a piece, swim back up to the ship to deposit it and repeat the process until all pieces were collected. It’s not an entertaining or interesting gameplay loop.

Full disclosure, I discovered the boat has a sonar panel while doing research after finishing the game.

This sonar shows a small ping when junk is nearby, and although the camera zooms in slightly to show the sonar the first time it detects junk, I didn’t realize that was its way of tutorializing the feature — I was too busy running around the ship’s interior while micromanaging panels to realize Changing Tides was trying to nudge me in its direction. Would it have killed Okomotive to put a small text overlay on the screen clearly disclosing the sonar function? Knowing that it existed would have reduced some headaches for me.

I know games don’t have to be “fun” but they need to be something other than tedious. The magical whimsy I felt in Lone Sails is swapped for hectic labor in a way that made Changing Tides a chore to complete — and not only is it a chore, it commits the cardinal sin of overstaying its welcome. I spent about five hours with Changing Tides, when half of that length would’ve been satisfactory. It also offers a few segments that I thought were the end, only to find that the game continued and dragged on after them.

Far: Changing Tides is the perfect example of a sequel that largely repeats what the first one did, except now it’s longer and more complicated. Maybe some players will admire the additional challenge and length, but I spent most of this adventure frustrated with the tedium. I will admit that the ending does tie a nice bow on things at the end, I just wish it got there sooner, and with less fuss.

Rating: 4 out of 10

Disclosures: This game is developed by Okomotive and published by Frontier Foundry. It is currently available on XBO/X/S, PS4/5, Switch and PC. This copy of the game was obtained via publisher and reviewed on the PS4. Approximately 5 hours of play were devoted to the single-player mode, and the game was completed. There are no multiplayer modes.

Parents: According to the ESRB, this game is rated E. Far: Changing Tides only features once instance of mature content where the player stumbles upon a human body that appears to be dead. There is no dialogue or text to explain the scenario, and the character model is not detailed to show violence or a graphic death. Even with this short instance appearing, I think the game is still approachable to all ages. However, Changing Tides doesn’t seem like a game created for young people to play. The post-apocalyptic adventure seems targeted toward a more mature audience. Also worth noting is that for players who might have phobias involving diving underwater or sailing open waters, this might be one to skip. There are no shark attacks or any threat of drowning (the protagonist has a diving suit) but it still could be triggering.

Colorblind Modes: There are no colorblind modes available

 Deaf & Hard of Hearing Gamers: This game does not offer subtitles but it contains no spoken dialogue and no text or subtitles to caption any sounds. I think this game would be extremely friendly given that it’s driven by visuals and playable mechanics. Joel Schoch’s score crescendos sometimes as the boat picks up speed, but it’s not an integral part of gameplay.

Remappable Controls: No, this game’s controls are not remappable.

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1 month ago

This sounds like the Banjo-Tooie of introspective sidescrollers. Thanks for the review!

Mike Suskie
27 days ago
Reply to  hdefined

I will not let this Banjo-Tooie slander stand

24 days ago
Reply to  Mike Suskie

I haven’t played any N64 games in a very long time, so I’m just going off my last impressions. But I remember playing through Banjo Kazooie multiple times, because I loved the pacing and worlds and mechanics, and I only played through Banjo Tooie once. I remember it was like Donkey Kong 64: a slog of a collectathon. Worlds were way too big, which made traversal more exhausting than fun. New moves and transformations were inferior to those introduced in the first game. The performance was incredibly laggy. It seemed like it was just more of the first game in… Read more »

Last edited 23 days ago by hdefined