The narrator in Far from Noise is freaking out, and with good reason. Thrown from the road by a spot of engine trouble, they’ve found themselves teetering on the edge of a cliff, one unlucky movement away from tumbling to a soggy death. At first they try to make light of the situation – ”People QUEUE for these kind of thrills!”, they joke – but with the sun setting and no luck starting the car again, panic begins to set in. Like most of us, the narrator is too young to die and has so much left to do. If this is the end, what have they left behind to be remembered by?
It’s then that a stranger approaches. While not much use in the rescuing vehicles from the brink of catastrophe department, he does offer some advice. Inhale. Count back from five. Exhale. Take a moment to slow your thoughts and a solution will present itself to you.
Far from Noise, a short narrative game from British developer George Batchelor, is just this; a slow, deep breath in the face of the worry and confusion of everyday life. It consists solely of a conversation shared on a cliff’s edge, and you play by clicking the coloured speech bubbles that pop out of the roof of the imperilled car, directing the dialogue between the narrator and the mysterious stranger. Sometimes you get a choice as to what the narrator says and sometimes you don’t. But whatever way the story goes, Far from Noise a charming, funny tale about finding hope when everything seems lost or pointless. It’s a game about evaluating one’s place in the world that touches upon the naturalist philosophies of the likes of Henry David Thoreau without falling prey to the misanthropy and ignorance of privilege often present in those schools of thought. I played through the game twice, choosing different options each time, and both paths felt meaningfully different, even if they resolved in essentially the same way. Both, too, left me feeling a little less burdened by the weight of the world than when I began.
George Batchelor writes with a natural wit and is convincing in portraying the way young people today speak (which shouldn’t be surprising coming from a 24-year-old). Indeed, Far from Noise is very much apiece with the likes of Night in the Woods or essentially any film starring Greta Gerwig as regards tone. It tackles self-doubt and existential disorientation with a cosy sincerity that’s refreshingly uncynical and sprinkled with just enough self-deprecating humour to avoid coming across as overly earnest. Some of the narrator’s childhood anecdotes, many involving animals, were a little on the sickly side for me, but they’re generally likeable as a character and possess familiar hangups.
It’s also presented beautifully, from its sparse, deliberate use of camera movement to its subtle score and tasteful colour schemes, paced in a way that reflects the game’s message of slowing down to appreciate what’s in front of you, allowing long pauses to punctuate the characters’ dialogue. You spend this intervening time mulling over what’s just been said or staring out at the horizon while listening to the waves and the birds, in no real rush to see what happens next.
Far from Noise doesn’t purport to have all the answers to a contented life and importantly seems to acknowledge that such grand doctrines rarely hold water. By couching the naturalist musings of Thoreau et all within a conversation, it takes a more balanced view of the material, amounting to an exploration of the ideas rather than wholehearted endorsement of them. We can be confident, for instance, that when the stranger proclaims “Nothing external has any power over you”, the game understands the naivety of such an assertion in a world where, say, poverty exists.
In the end, Far from Noise reminds us that while perhaps wrongheaded in their approach, the naturalists were on to something. At a time defined by chaos in which we’re constantly inundated by pointless minutiae, living in a world that moves faster every day, the invitation to consider the simpler, timeless things in life is valuable indeed.