Developer: George Batchelor Publisher: George Batchelor Platform(s): PS4, PC
You could probably play George Batchelor’s Far from Noise while you’re slowly being lifted down into a tank full of sharks because, really, it isn’t much of a game. If you are somewhat allergic to “walking simulators”, then this “sitting simulator” will likely make you break out in hives and in dire need of a shot of epinephrine. To say that it’s an experience everyone will enjoy would be an outright lie.
But I enjoyed it. Not because I connected with it on a spiritual level or that I was moved to tears, but just because it’s something worth playing through; the ultimate palate cleanser if you’re jaded from games in which death is treated like a blink of the eyes. In Far from Noise, death is the central theme, though Batchelor travels down some other avenues while the protagonist goes nowhere.
You are stranded on a cliff, teetering between life and death, in a banged-up old car in a single shot. Think Run Lola Run except Lola is sat in a car and questioning existence.
The unnamed girl stuck in the car has precious little choice but to just wait it out. She tries to start the engine, it sputters. She tries to get out of the car and then realises that it’s a bad idea. So, this is her lot, swaying back and forth over a low-poly cliff, totally alone. That is, until a stag comes across her path and they strike up a conversation, much to the girl’s amazement. It’s never explicitly mentioned if the stag is a figment of her imagination brought on from stress, but considering the dialogue the pair mainly involves themes of transcendentalism, individualism, and a splash of nihilism, it’s pretty clear.
Unfortunately, the girl’s precarious situation means that she can’t pull off a wicked reverse wheelie to save her life. This limits the gameplay to the most basic of inputs: L3 to select a dialogue option and X to confirm. Sometimes, you just need to press X. You really are just playing through what can at times feel like a thesis, but one that’s compelling all the same.
Everything is set in one place and some interactions can drag on somewhat, but luckily Batchelor introduces a couple of new “characters” along the way. There’s a frog riding a tortoise at one point and an owl surveying atop your car at another: the girl practically swoons over its appearance while also panicking that it could send her over the edge. Far from Noise also does its best to vary up the landscape, switching often between clear skies to wind and eventually a storm, which all prompt the girl to question her fate and future.
And what gorgeous landscapes it offers, primarily hues of red and purple making it seem like a modern painting. You could take a screenshot of almost every moment within Far from Noise and find your next desktop background as well as find your next “chill” playlist with its downbeat, sparing soundtrack. As much as Unity may not stand up all that well to giant projects, it’s carved out an excellent reputation for developers who want to tell stories, and Far from Noise just proves that further.
What keeps Far from Noise inviting across its hour and a half or so of playtime is the bizarre banter between the girl and the stag. She is unsure of what she wants to do or become in life, so she tries to brush everything off in a sardonic way, including the likelihood of her doom. The stag’s dour and straightforward nature is the perfect foil, allowing the pair to strike up a deeply thoughtful friendship while they both bounce off each other.
It’s a minimalist game that goes full-on with its themes, which may be a bit overbearing for some. Batchelor is an adept, humorous writer, but he opts for a long-winded approach too often when brevity would have been appreciated. Perhaps I simply read between the lines too little, but the girl and the stag seem like they go in circles a couple of times. Far from Noise still has a few engaging threads, that being said – it will likely leave you sitting back and asking yourself a few questions. It wasn’t quite as epiphanic for me as the not too dissimilar Journey, but I can see it being revelatory for anyone who feels trapped or lost.
As I’ve already said, Far from Noise won’t appeal to everyone, but it never really seems like it wants to – it has a very particular audience that will likely love the story of a girl, a cliff, and a stag. If you want to marvel at a beautiful horizon and appreciate some damn fine writing, Far from Noise could be your biggest surprise hit of November, or perhaps even the year.
Review code provided
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Far from Noise won't be for everyone. In fact, it will probably only appeal to a small audience, but that audience will likely fall in love with its mature handling of thoughtful themes and some sharp writing.
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