February 19, 2019

The Stillness of the Wind - Review

In a month where some of the biggest and loudest games released, being able to step back and enjoy a title like Stillness of the Wind is very refreshing, but does this game set in an old farm offer something fun, as well as different?

You meet Talma almost right away, she is an older lady who has decided to spend her remaining time in life, just tending to her chickens, goats and farm. The only contact that she has with the larger world is in the form of letters that arrive from friends and family in the big city, as well as the trader/postman who stops by to deliver them daily. When Talma is on her own, the tasks that you give her are entirely up to you, if you want to eat though, you need to grow crops, gather milk and so on, but as with all games like this, you can only do so much in a day, as things have to happen. As you go about your days, the letters you get begin to become more and more distressing, finding a reason to continue on is part of the challenge that Talma has and it is what I thought as well.

The gameplay loop on offer is very simple and nothing that not been done before, so while planting some crops, watering some old ones and such sounds simple, Talma is not a spry as other farming characters, so it takes her a bit to get around. Taking this into account is something that took me a number of in game days to adjust to, especially if you need to visit the well, which is located out the front of the farm. It is honestly something that takes some adjusting, but the game does also provide more context to just that, each action that Talma takes, requires patience, as she takes time to do a lot of the manual tasks. Tilling the soil, milking the goats, making cheese, each action is purposefully slow, which helps make the world more believable. I spent almost an entire in game day, petting my collection of goats, which had grown quite large, was it the most productive way of spending the day, no, but it was fun nonetheless.

But while Talma is going about her day of goat breeding and chicken farming, the world that we don’t see is slowly falling apart, which is defined in the letters that she receives. The letters start out full of hope and cheer, reminiscing about the town that used to be or the grandkids that are slowly growing up, but soon the letters begin to show a lack of hope and make you wonder if your time on the farm is worth it. As Talma is the only character, excluding the merchant/postie, all you do is up to you, but as night falls quickly, defining your day is not as easy as it sounds, while there are some chores that you can do on repeat, my usual routine took up a fair chunk of the day, it was the times when I threw that plan out the window that things became interesting.

One interesting part is how you control the game, as for some reason the developer has chosen to make you use a digital pointer, you don’t actually control Talma at all. The game players out, much as it does on PC, or any adventure game really, you click a point and Talma will wander over to it, you have only three buttons to worry about, the stick for moving the cursor, one button to interact and tell Talma where to walk and the other to cancel, that is it. The issue that I have with this system is that the cursor moves when Talma does, so if you are trying to get her to interact with the hoe or bucket, you need to direct her towards it and then when she is close enough, move the cursor back over the bucket and then interact with it. While the system is not broken, it is also not great and each time that I thought I had gotten a handle on it, it would do something a little odd, which would make me rethink that position.

One space that the games does quite well is with its presentation, thanks in part to a much reduced colour scheme and a minimalist approach to design. The farm that you see when you first boot up the game is more or less the same one that you have for the length of the game, the only thing that changes is your crops. Talma moves in a slow motion, but it is never presented by just slowing down a model, when she is walking, her animation is smooth, just moving at a reduced pace. The action of sitting in a chair to eat or read a letter, requires Talma to take things slow as she lowers herself into the chair, or rise from it, something that someone of advanced years might do themselves. The games ability to remember your footprints though is a nice little touch, because not only does it show you where you have been, it does a secondary duty of helping you navigate back to the farm, should you wander off to the desert. The games audio presentation is very minimalistic as well, the game has a very subtle sound track that can be so quiet at times that there were moments when I thought it was not playing at all. Sound effects also use this principle to great effect as the overall impact is that, with the lack of audio, you feel alone, isolated on your farm.

Stillness of the Wind is a game that is wonderfully morbid and I mean that in the best way possible, your daily routine is nothing you need to commit to, but doing so will add more things to do. The letters that Talma receives are fun to read and help paint a world outside of the farm and your imagination will fill in all the details that letters allude to. While the games controls are nothing short of bizarre, there is still enough to enjoy about the game that outweigh them.

Review copy provided by Fellow Traveller

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