Not quite GOATY material.
Farming games typically come in one of two guises. There are the realistic simulators in which you can live out your days on a John Deere tractor and even compete in eSports. Then there are the cutesy farm sims, your Stardew Valleys and Harvest Moons in which you live the good life and make friends within your community. The Stillness of The Wind, a harrowing tale of an old woman called Talma isolated on a desert farm while civilisation erodes around her, is neither of those things.
For starters, getting to grips with farming is a frustrating case of trial and error. Do your chickens need feeding? Seemingly not, despite the goats needing it. And neither require water, but your crops do. Talma needs food and sleep herself, but how much is the right amount? I never did work this out, and the result could be that you eat more of your valuable produce than necessary.
On a more fundamental level, it’s confusing to even get your head around the tools at your disposal. Roughly scattered around the farm without explanation is a basket, hoe, shotgun, water bucket, and a stick, the latter of which I never did figure out a purpose for. Basic prompts would have made the world of difference in giving the player an idea of what they’re supposed to do.
This experimental characteristic would be alright if not for the fact that a mistake or oversight in The Stillness of the Wind can quickly snowball into a crisis. Let your livestock die out and you could get trapped in a vicious cycle of not having any produce you can use to buy more livestock. There are no do-overs – whatever happens, you suffer the consequences.
Compounding the issue, night falls startlingly fast. There simply isn’t enough time in the day to achieve everything, even when you do know what you’re doing. Imagine Stardew Valley but a day is over within a minute. And you’re not a nimble, bright-eyed young farmer but a lumbering geriatric.
That said, to assume TSotW is just another farming simulator would be an understandable error. Rather, the daily grind of Talma’s life serves as a vehicle for the story. Yet a story-driven game will usually help the player clearly along its path – walking simulators being an obvious example. Unfortunately, the urgent scramble to make sense of the game’s systems and employ them efficiently can distract from its narrative.
The challenge of getting everything done in a day is that you’ll sometimes miss the postman, the only source of the story, drip-fed from the outside world. Talma has a postbox, but whether by a bug or by odd intention, letters never accumulated within it when I played.
When you do read the letters, they’re beautifully written – poetic, even, in places – but hard to piece together. Sent from Talma’s sister, daughter and friends, there are a lot of names and places to keep track of. Missing the odd letter, of course, only adds to the confusion. Whilst not making things any clearer, abstract dreams and nightmares also materialise from time to time, creating an unsettling vibe which hints towards the alarming events happening miles away from the farm.
There are some neat ideas buried under TSofW’s discouraging exterior. The trading system, while taking a minute or two to get the hang of (like most other things in the game) is cleverly antiquated by design. There’s no currency, so Talma has to trade her produce with the postman-cum-trader in order to gain more feed, livestock and seeds – by rough approximation rather than exact value, removing and adding things on either side until a deal is agreed.
It’s also beautifully animated, with a ramshackle, slightly abstract composition that’s appropriately quaint. The farm becomes a deep golden hue as the sun rises and sets, and a range of weather effects mixes up the environment you’ll see day in day out. A film grain filter is applied, which feels like it was done more because they could rather than they should have, but now I’m nitpicking.
From an audio standpoint, The Stillness of the Wind delivers what it promises: everything is still, and quiet. Almost eerily so. The bleat of a goat or Talma humming while she works are all that break the silence. Gentle piano background music arguably would have been a good fit here, but the noiselessness of Talma’s environment emphasises the solitude of her situation.
On a technical level, however, it’s lacking. The Switch version is a barebones port in which you control the cursor, rather than directly move the character around like analogue sticks are supposed to do. It’s fiddly and leads to a lot of fumbling and erroneous actions. On a couple of occasions, my hard-earned produce disappeared, too. As did my chickens and goats, at times. Was it the wolves – which arrive unpredictably and are very hard to chase off, even if you’re ready with your shotgun – or did they just vanish? Who knows.
The Stillness of the Wind is tough to recommend. While struggling to survive on the farm does effectively portray Talma’s circumstances, it doesn’t make for a fun experience. And the story of its world, while unique in concept, is too obtuse and disengaging in how it’s told. While there’s artistic merit in what’s been accomplished here, you should probably stick to a more traditional farming sim.
[Reviewed on Switch]
James loves a deep action-adventure game, RPG or Metroidvania. He can often be found in The Indie Game Website’s review section casting his critical eye over the latest indie games.