The Stillness Of The Wind Review – Alone On The Range
From the wonderful mind of Coyan Cardenas aka Memory of God, the spiritual successor to indie darling Where the Goats Are, The Stillness of the Wind sees players join the elderly Talma as she lives out her days on a remote farm.
Exactly how each day plays out is very much in the hands of the player. Milk the goats, collect eggs, rummage in the garden for greenery and do it all in your own time.
The Stillness of the Wind understands, and revels, in the meditative nature of deliberate living and quiet resolve. A deceptively complex idea it passes on to those who are willing to take the time to learn it.
The Stillness of the Wind Review
Talma and I developed an understanding almost immediately.
Her home was humble, slightly degraded by years of sun and the grit of sand, but the patchwork armchair and assorted books on the shelf lent the hut a certain charm. The small home wasn’t the only thing that time had waned.
Talma was slow to rise, slow to do most things in fact, but steady none the less. Of all the things the world had seemingly taken from the elderly woman, her determination was not one of them.
This day was much like the rest on her somewhat idyllic farm. A settled routine of animal caretaking and general busy work while the sun beat down overhead and the wind carried with it the sounds of a distant, perhaps troubled city.
My initial frustrations with Talma’s walking speed ebbed away as I began to notice the small details. These minor flourishes I was only made aware of because the game made sure I was moving slow enough to see.
A shotgun resting on the wall by the barn, more ominous omen to wild animals than your standard wasteland combat invitation. On the second day, Talma and I took a stroll out just beyond the property line. There we found a barely marked grave with flowers sprouting around it. Despite my clumsy controlling, Talma refused to walk over it. By the time I had hobbled back to the hut, my goats had wandered out of the gate I forgot to close.
My time with The Stillness of the Wind was full of these little moments that could easily be spun out into vignettes about a life lived peacefully on a farm as the end draws slightly nearer with each rising of the sun.
The Stillness of the Wind is a minimalist experience through and through. The gameplay is short bursts of interactivity which don’t allow for failure, only minor setbacks.
Milking the goats and other basic farm duties prompt a ‘slow-time-event’ of sorts as a small meter slowly fills up before being activated by pressing the A button. Churning that same milk into cheese needs only a light turning of the left joystick several times.
Given the premise of the game, it is unsurprising that it also features some farming simulation of a sort. Much like the button prompts this too is a lite take on the experience. Talma can plough small patches of dirt to plant and grow a small variety of flowers and edible plants. Chickens roam freely and will occasionally lay eggs in a small dog kennel turned chicken coup.
These spoils of farm life, along with the goat butter, can either be consumed by Talma for sustenance or traded to the travelling merchant, Laszlo, for bare minimum necessities. This economy is unfair by design; The Stillness of the Wind may not resemble the kind of apocalyptic landscape we’re used to but make no mistake, this is a world in decline.
Night Is Darkest Before The Dawn
The Stillness of the Wind makes a point of not isolating players through difficult gameplay because what it does eventually ask of the player is a challenge of a new kind. Emotional investment in Talma and her farm is crucial to the game’s success and is rewarded with a breathtaking series of events I’m still turning over in my mind.
While Talma spends much of her time in the company of farm animals, The Stillness of the Wind still manages to craft a world that is all at once fantastical and close enough to touch. Every few days Laszlo will deliver letters to Talma from her family members scattered around the globe and beyond (you’ll know it when you read it).
These letters deliver an emotional gut-punch thanks to the game’s impeccable writing. Writers Harald Hagen and Michael Berto breath life into each of Talma’s relatives as they each unravel tales of their time away from the farm and how that distance has changed them. Sisters, brothers, and children of her own all reach out to Talma with unique voices that still carry the poetic symmetry of a connected bloodline.
The only other human Talma interacts with during your time together is Laszlo, the elderly travelling merchant. With a slow trot to match Talmas and a white beard bursting from his shawl, Laszlo quickly became the yin to my yang.
His visits broke up the solitude, always with a joyful call out if Talma isn’t by the gate when he happens by. The Stillness of the Wind even plays a light musical cue when he arrives, just in case you’re out of earshot when he calls.
The two share a rapport that hints at a history filled with adoration but perhaps missed opportunities. This longing between the two shifts away from subtext as time grows short and the two are forced to confront the darkening of the skies around them.
This meditation on closure, regret and companionship lands with the same emotional weight as the letters, another testament to Hagen and Berto’s script.
Talma’s farm is still, however, an unavoidably lonely place. Surrounded by ghosts of the past, which Talma will fondly recall by interacting with various objects, the only consistent company are her faithful goats. Outside of their mechanical purpose, these animals fill the silence with their mutterings, inviting Talma to pat them at any opportunity.
Doing so will cause the old woman to laugh heartily for no one to hear but her animal wards.
As time marches on, the world of The Stillness of the Wind slowly peels away at its edges to reveal a troubling undertone. This gradual decline into a much darker place, both narratively and metaphorically, is one of the game’s biggest strengths and I would do the game a disservice if I were to detail any of it here.
With that said, those expecting a simple farming game will find something much deeper here. Talma is plagued with nightmares in which the player will have varying degrees of control. These haunting visions accompany growing unease in the game’s far off cities as the letters from family members arrive with more frequency and tonal urgency. This all culminates in a harrowing narrative which will leave you with a knot in your stomach and an ache in your heart.
All of this is told through a gorgeous art style which is paradoxically both minimalist and richly detailed. This particular style gives The Stillness of the Wind a textured, earthy tone that is reworked for later segments into a washed out portrait of loss.
New Bones, Old Breaks
The Stillness of the Wind’s narrative and soul is untouchable but the game is occasionally undercut by its uneven core mechanics.
The game’s most impressive technical achievement is its manipulation of time as it relates to your actions in the world. Days spent doing little around the farm will drag as the sun overhead gradually makes its way west. Time spent hard at work, however, will cause days to speed up, infusing the game with the very real world sensation of there rarely being enough hours in the day.
The minimalist approach also enables the game to convey much of its information organically to the player. The vast desert surrounding the farm is explorable but without a map, you will be forced to use landmarks to guide yourself back home.
If the experience were to falter at all it would be in this conservative approach to actual gameplay; a limited range of mechanics needn’t be an issue in the face of the game’s commitment to narrative and aesthetic but The Stillness of the Wind may run the risk of players not engaging with it in the right way.
We’ve seen these conversations before (Gone Home springs to mind) and we will undoubtedly see them again but the blurred line between game and experience, for some, is difficult to follow and only time will tell how players will respond.
On a technical level, there are a few minor hiccups. Movement is controlled in a similar style to a point and click adventure title but the cursor, mapped to the right stick, feels slightly off. It moves across the screen as Talma moves which makes choices on the fly a pain to control.
The game’s single load time is quite lengthy also but once the experience begins there are very few moments which you’ll be forced to wait through a black screen again.
Regardless, The Stillness of the Wind is a magical slice of life that tackles heavy subject matter with the ease of a masterpiece. For those who are seeking a ruminative experience about perseverance, family and the inevitable setting of the sun, this is a game not to be missed.
Game title: The Stillness of the Wind
Outstanding narrative - 10/10
Exceptional writing - 10/10
Minimalist gameplay - 8/10
Textured art style - 8/10