So Far

by Andrew Plotkin profile

Surreal
1996

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Number of Reviews: 7
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6 of 6 people found the following review helpful:
Jung on Myst, April 24, 2012
by Rymbeld (Greensboro, NC)

Well, I don’t know how to start writing about this game. Really I don’t. I know that I liked it, so I’ll start there. I liked it far more than Plotkin’s previous game, A Change in the Weather, by a wide margin. It was immediately engrossing: the writing was luxurious and invited me to read the game as text in a way that the previous games I’d encountered had not. The game opens with the protagonist at a play, worried about Aessa, presumably your girlfriend. She’s stood you up. And the game strongly implies (by way of the play which you’re watching, and the hints near the end of the game) that she is actually having an affair.

So Far seems like a representation of one man’s internal coming to grips with this awareness of betrayal, loss, and loneliness. Sure, one could read the various worlds you traverse as literal—that the game is a fantastic world-hopping adventure—but Plotkin put too much detail and care for us to legitimately come to that conclusion. For instance, each world is keyed to some environmental markers: “autumn, cool, smoky” or “bright, bitter wind.” The game opens in “hot, sticky,” which mirrors the protagonist’s mood: “Damn the crowd, in truth: your mood was hot, foul, and dark when you came in.” The pathetic fallacy runs rampant in So Far, to such an extent that it is hard for me to believe that the various worlds you end up exploring exist “out there” at all. Then environments become increasingly bleak, dark, and shapeless, mirroring various stages of acceptance. And the end of the game--oh, the end.

Cracks show up a lot, too. Keep an eye out for them. Cracks in walls, in the earth, etc. Seems like a blatant symbol of the rupture in the protagonist’s relationship. The cracks are often associated with water (yonic?). There’s even a puzzle that involves (Spoiler - click to show)trying to rupture a crack in order to cause a glacier landslide, revealing a chill tunnel leading to a cave of light, where “ripples of gold light fall through milky blue veils.” The game begs for a Freudian reading.

Shadows are important in this game, too, another thing hinted at right at the game’s outset. The game opens with the final act of a play, and Plotkin deftly wove in all the major themes of the game into this scene, which you watch play out before you really can do anything. “Rito has finally found out about Imita's affair, and he stalks the stage, whipping voice and hands about himself. A footfall behind him; he turns, and sees Imita,” the game begins. Rito turns to Imita and berates her: “How come you, harlot? Dare you come this way, / your skin yet dark with Tato's shadow's stain?” “Shadow” here is obviously a marker, since the action of the game involves finding odd shadows and stepping into them.

In fact, this game kept reminding me of Myst. Traveling to different worlds and solving puzzles. However, unlike in Myst, many of the worlds in So Far are populated. On the other hand, the people in those worlds are either hostile to you or indifferent. You typically don’t feel connected to anyone, except the lost boy perhaps—and that boy might even be you, a homunculus trapped in a maze of rusted metal. The puzzle here(Spoiler - click to show)--clanging metal pipes to move around—suggested to me a prelinguistic stage of psychological development, and the boy simply that innocent, bruised self hiding in all of us.

The writing and the way some of these worlds were structured suggested Myst to me, too. The first world you encounter involves a castle and a radioactive power generator. Here’s a sample of the room where you first appear:
(Spoiler - click to show)
Abandoned Road
The sky is almost violet, infinitely distant -- you've never seen such a sky, and without the haze of metallic heat that summer should have. But the wind is sharp and chilly, and the trees nearby are a quilt of orange, red, and gold.

Beneath you the road is old, filled with weeds and ragged moss; dirt shows only in patches. To the south, the track is choked with trees, as it runs into the fringes of an autumn forest. It continues the other way, though, towards an immense stone wall that hems the northern horizon.

The puzzles are generally not too hard, but not too easy, either. There is some trial and error to go through, of course; and the logic of the worlds doesn’t always make sense, especially as you progress through the game and the worlds become more abstract and strange: in one, you wander a desolated landscape, manipulating platonic solids. And then there is the darkness and the shadows and the shades of the happy couple you and Aessa once were. This protagonist is an awfully cerebral individual who works out his issues by plumbing deep into his psyche.

Is there anything wrong with this game? It’s puzzle-heavy, which isn’t to my taste, but on the other hand, they are mostly woven into the theme pretty well, though Plotkin’s writing. There are a few that are fairly silly and don’t fit, though. And some of the more tedious ones take you out of the world completely, in terms of player immersion. That is, you’re reminded that you’re just playing a game and you forget all about this cool world you’re in.

But I think the major failure of the game is that it is written in the second person. I know that’s a convention of text adventures, but in this case the prose would be more compelling, I think, if Plotkin had experimented with the first person. Especially in a game like this, which could easily be read as taking place within the protagonist’s head in a surrealist psychological drama. The standard game engine response of “I don’t understand that verb” when the player fails to guess the right verb, or makes a typo, felt particularly jarring after I began to understand the game in this way. Granted, the second person is the standard convention in IF, but I look forward to playing some games which break this rule.

Taken together with A Change in the Weather, it seems that one consistent theme between the two Plotkin games I’ve played so far is isolation or loneliness. In the previous game, the protagonist wandered away from his friends in search of some solitude; in So Far the protagonist is dealing with a breakup, or perhaps infidelity. Text adventure games are typically solitary affairs by their very nature, so it’s nice to see Plotkin incorporating this into the plot of the game.

(re-posted from my blog, gentle hart desire)


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Snave, October 30, 2018 - Reply
"You typically don’t feel connected to anyone" is a good one-sentence summary of a lot of the things that are going on in this game, I think. Loss, frustration, and alienation. Well said.
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