As Far As The Eye review: a survival/strategy game with a warm smile and a murderous heart

The very first prompt in As Far As The Eye tells you that “You are the wind”, which is as zen-like an opening to a game as I can remember. Your job as the wind is to act as a guiding force for the Pupils, a race of shape-shifting nomads who are trekking to a place of safety from a coming flood. It has a lovely, warm art style twinned with pleasant but informative sound design, and it serves as a timely reminder of both the fragility and power of nature. It is also an utter, utter bastard.

Made by the small French developer Unexpected, As Far As The Eye’s basic premise is quite straightforward. Your Pupils are driving a caravan (the animal kind, not the behind-a-car variety) to The Eye. The Eye is the only place they can shelter from the great floods, which occur in a regular cycle and sweep away everything in their path. To get to The Eye though, Pupils will need to gather the necessary resources as they go, stopping at Halts to do so.

Being shapeshifters, Pupils assume different animal-inspired forms to undertake different jobs. It’s a rather neat way of tracking who is doing what. The longer Pupils spend in each form, the more experience they get, which unlocks bonuses and additional options. Time spent at Halts is turn-based, with a limit on turns provided by how long it will be before the floods arrive and submerge everything and everyone still there when they show up.

The resources your Pupils need will vary depending on what path they are to take. There are often different possible routes to choose from, depending on what resources the Halt you’re at has available. Other times, you’re forced into a single route and its resource requirements. You’ll need to construct buildings to harvest what you need from your environment. A cynic might suggest the Pupils would be better off building a boat, but let’s not dwell on that…

Of course, every mine or farm requires resources to build it. Most of these buildings will be left behind when the Pupils move on, so those expenses are a sunk cost (literally, in this case). Pupils need housing before they can work, and you still need to keep the Pupils fed and cared for while collecting resources for your journey. As such, you’ll often be juggling immediate concerns with future needs.

It’s not the only balancing act you’ll need to undertake. Unused resources can be carried over between Halts, but space on the caravan is limited. You’ll need to carefully consider what to take with you. Also, resources at each Halt are finite, with each source only containing a certain amount. It’s possible to build ‘mobile’ versions of each building which can be carried between Halts, but again, they take up a lot of space on the caravan.

There is an incentive, then, to accumulate as many resources as possible at each Halt. However, there are negative consequences to stripping a Halt bare. Vagaries, random environmental events, become more common and more severe with each source of materials which you clean out. These vagaries can vary from lightning strikes and fires to floods and landslides. They can be very problematic, particularly the ‘damaged road’ vagary, which increases the amount of resources you’ll need to have before you can continue your journey.

Perhaps the most imposing of vagaries are those of the random number generator at the heart of As Far As The Eye. Each Halt and each play-through is procedurally generated, as are the resource requirements. The plus side is that this means there’s a lot of replay value to be had. The downside is that sometimes it can make life almost impossibly difficult.

In one run, I needed to have 750 ore before I could move the caravan on. However, the Halt only had 400 ore available, and I carried over 100 or so from the last stop. Markets can be built, enabling the trade of one resource for another; however, the exchange rate for resources is such that an implausible amount of other resources was required. I was stuck, and so were my Pupils. What I should have done is check the map for what the Halt after next required from me, but by that stage it was too late.

It’s a testament to As Far As The Eye that I felt quite so sad about these failures. Seeing your Pupils starve or get swept away by the floods is a wrench. Even though a certain amount of luck is needed for a successful run, failure always left me with a sense that I could have done more. The example I gave above is a quite egregious instance of bad fortune. The large majority of the time it felt very much that any unsuccessful journeys were down to me.

There’s no real narrative beyond what I’ve described above, aside from a ‘campaign’ which is really just a tutorial. Replay value comes from the randomised nature of the journeys, but also from the additional tribes to unlock. These tribes have modifiers that mix up the gameplay a bit; some tribes’ Pupils specialise in certain jobs, and the vagaries can be more or less severe. Longer journeys are available too, if you really want to get your heart broken.

I very much enjoyed As Far As The Eye. Its cute, appealing presentation belies a challenging turn-based strategy game. Even when things were going well, it seemed as though there was always something escaping my attention. Random events can sometimes be frustrating, but they can be mitigated somewhat, as long as you manage your environment and plan ahead. The best thing I can say about it though, is that it completely sucked me in. A ‘quick 20-minute session’ invariably became 90 minutes of minimal blinking. I think I’ll need to give it some more time – allow myself to relax into it more. It really is quite charming.

As Far As The Eye was developed by Unexpected and published by Goblinz Studio, and it’s available on PC.

Disclosure statement: review code for As Far As The Eye was provided by Future Friends Games. A Most Agreeable Pastime operates as an independent site, and all opinions expressed are those of the author.

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