By Nathan Grayson on September 10th, 2013 at 9:00 pm.
When games go deep-sea diving, you can usually count me out. Controls get clunky, cameras go haywire, and fish simply do not understand the etiquette of fair, gentlemanly combat. The short version? When a game’s setting hits rock bottom, my happiness level typically goes right down there with it. FarSky, however, is a rare exception. Well, kind of. It’s still a bit awkward to control, but that’s part of the charm. Sometimes. You’re a suit-bound diver whose underwater vessel has lost some rather important bits, so you’ve got to reassemble your achy breaky craft and just, well, survive. Good luck with both, however, as crushing depths are not kind to the easily popped jelly balloons we call bodies, and you’ll have to contend with increasing water pressure, decreasing temperature, and more survival factors (in addition to sharks, giant monster wheel things, and extremely mean jellyfish) along the way.
FarSky is still rather early, but it’s already got atmosphere down pat. Water burbles and flows, various (though regrettably few in number) species of undersea life flit about, and sunbeams pierce a sloshing ceiling, dangling memories of freedom just out of reach. But then you descend deeper, and it gets darker. And colder. And sharkier.
The most memorable moment of my FarSky playthrough was probably my own death. Through combat (which is still admittedly very floaty and imprecise at this point) you can level up your suit to withstand greater depths and colder temperatures. Unfortunately, while riding the high of my triumph over a weird chitinous wheel creature guarding my first water vessel piece, I miscalculated and, er, dove off a cliff. To its credit, my suit dutifully persevered, cushioning me from 40 bars of pressure – its absolute limit at that point. I then marveled at the alluring mystery of the scene before me. Beckoning blackness, swaying deep sea vegetation, suffocating silence.
But then my field of view started fogging, and that’s when I realized Death’s cold, scaly hand had to come to claim me. I’d leveled up my ability to withstand pressure, but not temperature. I couldn’t find a jet stream of water to get me back more habitable depths, either. I was in trouble.
Then a shark punched me in the back of the head.
I’m pretty sure it was a great white, but it may as well have been a hammerhead given the way I was immediately catapulted deeper into this new environment’s swirling oblivion. At that point, I realized I was already fish food, so I decided to make a break for the nearest vessel piece, dimly illuminated by a hazy shaft of light. In the process, I lost the shark, but found a new ocean-dwelling BFF in the form of a colossal eel monster. He was my best friend and also my last, as he brought my forever to a lightning-quick end, battering my frozen, near-immobile suit with bone-crunching blows.
It was a total disaster, but the good kind. The kind that makes for a great story. The kind that games do better than just about anything else. And as soon as my bones clattered against a cold, uncaring ocean floor, I was able to randomly generated a new world and try again. Hooray!
All that said, I do have some concerns. FarSky’s internal logic is a bit shaky, and having players fight to gain better survival stats just seems like a crutch – an arbitrary, unconnected mechanic to lean on in place of a better survival idea. Also, combat artificially gates progression, and – even though I could only get to more vessel parts by descending to greater depths – grinding seems unavoidable. Otherwise, death at lower (though “main quest” necessary) depths is inevitable. Boss fights, meanwhile, are simple, pattern-based affairs, and they feel kind of out-of-place in such an otherwise natural environment.
FarSky is a one-man project that’s only in alpha, though, so there’s plenty of room for improvement. Creator Tim Spekler updates the game regularly, and he’s already promised to make the game “more survival and less shooter”. FarSky’s got issues both large and small, but for what it is and where it’s at, it’s already quite an accomplishment. Give it a go here.