Edmund Burke described the sublime as that intense emotion that results from an experience combining a sense of terror with a feeling of awe and wonder, particularly in an experience of the natural world. The first image I encountered of Far From Noise was the harrowing but beautiful combination of a colorful cliffside seascape with a small car run off the road and stopped at the cliff’s edge, hanging on against the inevitable fall. The game’s story unfolds through the internal monologue of the car’s nameless driver as it teeters on the cliff’s edge. The image nurtured in my imagination numerous possibilities, how I might, in playing the game, work to write the character’s story and to explain what it was that led her to this precarious predicament. Unfortunately, Far From Noise never manages to capitalize on that possibility, and as a result, it creates the veneer of a meaningful narrative experience without connecting that experience to player interaction.
This is not to say that Far From Noise misses its target completely, several elements coalesce with its overarching aesthetic quite well. Astute players will recognize the influence of the American existentialist writers Thoreau and Emerson on the game’s philosophical foundation, and indeed, the credits attest to this influence explicitly, identifying Emerson, Thoreau, and also John Muir as inspirations. Yet in the end, while the literary foundation for the game is potentially powerful, the execution doesn’t quite manage to become compelling.
The game’s visual design and aesthetic are its strongest elements. The environment surrounding the player’s precariously tilting car exudes life despite its stillness. In one of the game’s more captivating moments, the perspective changes to focus on the sun setting on the horizon. This subtle shift in visual focus showed a keen instinct for using perspective for emotional effect, in this case, the movement of time and the sublime beauty of something as simple as a sunset. After this point, there were several other moments during the game when I hoped that another kind of shift might occur, perhaps looking back on the path that led the character to this crisis, or to either side, but for the most part the viewpoint remains locked. This too seemed to be a missed opportunity for the game to provide a dynamic visual narrative. In saying all this, I recognize that much of what Far From Noise seems to be working toward relies on subtlety. Small and incremental changes do occur throughout the game, and much of the game’s focus draws our attention to the necessity of noticing details and in being delighted by things that we often fail to notice in the midst of our non-stop lives. But in making these claims over a game whose visual design doesn’t offer as much as it could to demonstrate the value of such minute reflections, Far From Noise ends up (perhaps intentionally) highlighting the superiority of the natural world to a digital representation.
In the end, while the idea of branching dialogue options and variable narrative suggests that the game was meant to be replayed to discover alternate moments in the story, Far From Noise didn’t provide enough detail in its narrative to make such a re-entry into the game worthwhile. As someone who studies and teaches literature, I appreciate the effort to bring concepts that have been foundational to American literature, but ultimately, the game needed more life, both in its character and in its visual world. Persuading us that the natural world, what the poet Percy Shelley called “the everlasting universe of things,” is valuable and deserves our respect is a noble goal, I only wish that Far From Noise offered a more nuanced and intricate vision of that idea.