Hunt, survive and thrive under the sea.
PC Release: April 25, 2014
By Ian Coppock
The term “survival” usually brings scraping by in a jungle or fighting a hungry animal to mind; why can’t survival be relaxing? Why can’t Tom Hanks spend some time lazing on the beach when he’s not busy fishing coconuts out of trees or screaming at volleyballs? FarSky explores the notion of finding tranquility in survival and exploration, of enjoying a relaxing vibe even when death is swimming nearby. How does it do this? Let’s find out.
FarSky (not to be confused with Far Cry) is an underwater survival game created by the eponymous FarSky Interactive. It’s unclear why a game about being underwater is called FarSky; maybe because the sky is far away from the bottom of the sea? Or perhaps FarSky Interactive wanted to emulate the concept of the self-titled debut album? Whatever the reason, FarSky remains the rarest type of title that can be found on Steam: an open-world survival game that isn’t in Early Access.
FarSky‘s lively mix of exploration, building, and crafting is split into two modes: Adventurer and Sandbox. The two are virtually identical; Adventurer tosses a light narrative and endgame goal onto surviving in the ocean, while Sandbox allows players to just keep swimming without any pesky exposition. Both modes encourage players to hunt for fish (which are definitely food, not friends), harvest resources, and craft tools.
Adventurer mode is essentially a glorified tutorial for Sandbox, as evidenced by its simple goal and laughable premise. The mode casts players as Nathan, a diver who needs to reassemble his broken submarine in order to reach the surface and call for help. Apparently Nathan has weights tied to his ankles, because swimming up to the surface himself and waiting for rescue is out of the question. Nathan gets some handy dandy survival tips from his buddy Madison, who chimes in over radio to remind him to eat his lunch and to watch out for sharks. That’s literally all there is to this title’s “story.”
No, the true fun of FarSky lies in the game’s Sandbox mode, where players can build bases, fight sharks, and explore the ocean ad infinitum. Unlike the Adventurer mode, Sandbox spawns players into a random part of the ocean with one underwater module to inhabit and precious little else. From there, it’s up to players to stay one fin ahead of oceanic predators and dive the depths in search of treasure. Even though FarSky is set underwater, players move about as if on dry land and jump jet from place to place. That’s okay though, because swimming in games is generally terrible.
FarSky‘s gameplay will be instantly recognizable to anyone who’s played Minecraft. Indeed, calling FarSky “underwater Minecraft” is not entirely without merit. Like Minecraft, players control their character from a first-person perspective and spend most of their time harvesting materials from the environment around them. Players also have a hunger bar and must keep the munchies at bay by hunting fish or growing vegetables. Players have to watch out for predators, who are drawn by the killing of fish and also come out in droves after dark.
Once players gather enough materials, it’s time to build an underwater base. FarSky allows players to construct the ultimate marine lair, a process made easy with the game’s simple crafting menus. Those same menus allow players to build plenty of other cool gear, from reinforced diving suits to spearguns and even little submarines. For anything that can be said about how derivative FarSky is of Minecraft, few games do crafting and base-building as well as this title does.
The other neat thing about FarSky is how it stratifies its biomes. The game features three levels of ocean for player to explore: the shallow spots near the surface, the deep blue sea, and the very, very bottom. The deeper the level, the more lucrative its resources. Players can’t race straight to the bottom for the good stuff, though; they first have to build the requisite diving suit, which can only be made with materials found in the preceding stratum. Players can also access a topographic map to see where the next big gold deposit is, but the game doesn’t allow setting waypoints, which is silly.
Though this system is a bit simplistic, FarSky‘s strata are an innovative way to stagger out exploration and make players build progressively more advanced equipment. It requires them to be methodical in both building a base and in using their resources in order to reach the bottom (rather than, y’know, just being able to reach the bottom from the get-go). This setup also encourages players to explore each level of the ocean thoroughly and use the materials found therein before proceeding 20,000 leagues deeper.
FarSky does a good job of encouraging its players to get out there and explore, but some would-be Jules Vernes might find this title’s gameplay shallow. Like many survival games, FarSky encapsulates a simple cycle of hunting, eating, building, and exploring. It can be lots of fun to find treasure in the deepest depths and spend hours building up a dream home, but constantly hunting for fish, gathering materials, and returning home to do it all again can get repetitive.
Some of FarSky‘s other gameplay elements also come up feeling somewhat cheap, particularly the predator encounters. Sharks out for the player’s blood barrel right toward them and cannot be dodged, meaning that players either have to have a speargun or be really good with a knife to avoid becoming fish food. Bereft of either of these things, it’s easy for players to end up dying and respawning without their inventory. Being able to have at least a small chance of dodging the sharks would be nice.
FarSky‘s artwork swims a very fine line between being low-poly and being low-budget. The ocean is well enough animated; fish swim believably and kelp sways serenely, which helps reinforce the vibe of a living, breathing sea. Less serene are the game’s textures, some of which are hideous. The surfaces of mineral deposits and certain items are heavily pixelated, making them look less like objects in a 2014 title and more, say, like something out of 1995’s Star Wars: Dark Forces. Fish and other sea life look a lot better, but that might be because most of them feature only one or two solid colors.
FarSky does a bit better when it comes to object placement, scattering shipwrecks and seaweed in a believable pattern across its game world. The game’s maps also feature impressive geographic variety; players can traverse sandy plateaus, geyser fields, and deep underwater canyons in search of resources. FarSky‘s veneer is simplistic and lacks polish, but the game’s object placement and usage of bright colors is a big help. The game’s dramatic changes in elevation add more spectacle (and variety).
Despite suffering a host of amateurish design problems ranging from unrealistic movement to smudged up textures, FarSky‘s siren call is still pretty compelling. The game’s mechanics, while simplistic, are smoothly implemented and make it easy for players to explore. It’s fun to dive deep into the ocean in search of food, treasure, and new geographic formations. It’s also fun to come home after a long day’s diving and build out that cool underwater base; there’s always room for another sub bay or another hydroponics lab.
In spite of its shallowness, FarSky is also remarkably relaxing. Maybe it’s the kelp gently swaying, or the beautiful piano-driven music playing in the background, but few survival games are as apt at relaxing the mind as FarSky. Its beautiful oceanic visage and simple setup make it accessible to everyone, and allow the game to run on PCs new and old (despite a limited options menu). FarSky would benefit from more realistic underwater physics and better rendered visuals, but it’s still a fun little distraction. It’s not the Heart of the Ocean, but it’s still a rough gem.
At the end of the day, players looking for a simple survival experience or a casual underwater adventure should try FarSky. Its gameplay can’t hold a candle to the complexity of better-known survival adventures, but its relaxing vibe, mysterious atmosphere, and easy crafting gameplay still make for a savory cocktail. Dive deep and see what secrets the ocean conceals; players can count on plenty of shipwrecks, surprise shark attacks, and base-building fun in this pleasant little sea shanty.
You can buy FarSky here.
Thank you for reading! My next review will be posted in a few days. You can follow Art as Games on Twitter @IanLayneCoppock, or friend me at username Art as Games on Steam. Feel free to leave a comment or email me at email@example.com with a game that you’d like to see reviewed, though bear in mind that I only review PC games.