Longing for More Life in Far From Noise

Far From Noise is beautiful and poetic but does its poetry coalesce into a meaningful interactive story?

Written by J. Stephen Addcox / Published on January 25, 2018

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.

"Far From Noise ends up (perhaps intentionally) highlighting the superiority of the natural world to a digital representation."
One of the primary problems in Far From Noise is the pacing of the textual narrative. Players cycle through a number of dialogue choices that are presented as thought bubbles above the vehicle, but these short sentences don’t provide much in the way of detail for the character trapped inside. While brief glimpses into the personality of our protagonist do occur, so much is left veiled that filling in the gaps feels like a chore. A paucity of detail can be valuable, allowing players to spin out their own ideas of what might be going on in a character’s psyche or in their history, but in the case of Far From Noise, the narrative could have used more meat. This absence of detail may be a result of the game’s design, which precludes longer dialogue (or monologue) choices by placing each selection in a small bubble. As I played, I wondered if the game might have benefitted from a dialogue system similar to those found in RPGs like Mass Effect, in which the selections give a general idea as to the dialogue choice, but the spoken or printed words from the character are fuller and expand on the idea. Such a system might have allowed the game to more effectively flesh out its character. Instead, I often felt indifferent to some of the choices—my character wasn’t becoming someone I knew.

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.

About the Author:

J. Stephen Addcox is an Upper School English Teacher at The Westminster Schools in Atlanta. In addition to teaching Shakespeare and Jane Austen, he also enjoys using video games and digital narratives in the classroom.