Puzzle games can be very hit or miss. At times they can feel confusing, punishing for no real reason or have a steep difficulty curve. Out of Line has none of those things, lets get into it!
Out of Line is a 2D puzzle side-scroller game, that is quite reminiscent of a very artsy cute Abe’s Odyssey. You play as San, someone who is escaping to freedom from a factory full of enemy machines that are on the look out for any jalbreakers. Along the way you will navigate puzzles, stealth your way through unknown entities, and work together with NPC’s to assist you in your endeavour.
Your protagonist San is met with a beautiful tree, that has blossomed with iridescent blue fragments. The tree is quickly destroyed by one of the entities, as you fall further into the depths of the factory. You fall flat on your face, and met with your barren tree and a new goal of restoration. It is here, your path to freedom begins. One of the fragments on the tree is gold, and drifts over to you. This becomes your spear. The spear is your key to freedom. You use it to climb onto higher ledges, rope pull yourself to traverse to difficult-to-reach area’s, press buttons and activate machinery.
First impressions are usually made within seven seconds, (I didn’t make the science, google it. It is true), and yes, I know that fact is about people, but it could arguably be said about anything. I certainly knew I didn’t like celery within the first seven seconds of eating it! Anyway my point is, first impressions are to account for a lot in my opinion, and with Out of Line, it caught my attention right away.
Visually, for a 2D game, this game is stunning. The backdrop invites you to look at almost every brushstroke created to amalgamate the beautiful tones of red, yellows, greens and browns. These are blurred, but the sharpness of the enemies, characters and fragments make for an eye inviting treat. Some story is told through still art which just adds extra character to the visual story of the game. The factory itself has a number of different environments you scroll through, so you are not looking at the same backdrop as you negotiate your way deeper into the factory to independence.
Movement is smooth, and I had no technical issues, other than at the expense of my own joycon drift that accidentally killed me once or twice! When a game’s main mechanic is aiming a tiny weeny sharp gold spear to help you attain your puzzle goals, it is imperative that the aim is flawless. I was so relieved then I threw my tiny spear and it hit the target with clear precision, even at the angle I threw it. It is easy to use the same 3 or 4 buttons when in a side scroller, but Out of Line does well to make sure most buttons of the switch are utilised to maximise your aim, movement and action.
There are no levels or chapters as such, it feels like one synchronous story that you are playing through. There is an easy save checkpoint that works quite effortlessly in the background that you are not distracted by, so you do not have to worry about a situation on your hands, where you may die, and you are pulled back a fair whack from your demise like other platform games.
Here is some beef I have with puzzle games, and I won’t name names, because I think it is quite a common attribute. BUT, some puzzle games will very quickly deep dive you into the depths of difficulty, and yes it feels amazing when you conquer it, but sometimes that work is just a tad too taxing in the first place.
For some people, that might be all the fun, but for me, it makes me want to launch my controller/console/switch out the window. It makes me want to hold my breath after the first few levels of a puzzle game, knowing that what is coming may be that I might have just fallen off a cliff into the depths of difficulty quickly. With Out of Line, I never felt this way whilst manoeuvring my way through a giant robot spider, or pulling levers to shine the light on critters so I could make a quick getaway.
The game itself does not have an overwhelming feeling of quick pace or pressure. As a player you can take your time (most of the time!) through the puzzles. Out of Line allows the player to not feel badly punished whilst doing a puzzle. Every single puzzle completed made me excited to carry on the journey, as opposed to dreading how hard the next puzzle could be and dreading getting to it.
Yes – the puzzles do get challenging and I am in no way saying this game is too easy. The game strikes a good balance between reward and punishment, met with positive reinforcement. Something that is also quite common with puzzle games, are repetitiveness. Out of Line does a commendable job of individualising each obstacle that gets in your way. You are not just met with the same puzzle with an added extra valve or lever. You are met with dynamic differences and dangers, such as being chased, moving light to defend yourself, climbing ledges to pull levers, throwing your spear into blade saws to stop it and more.
There is no script or dialogue within the game. You play to atmospheric music. One thing that particularly stood out to me, was how well the foley is done. Every crunch of grass, push of rock, or impact of spear to wall is executed really well and sounds exactly how you would expect those elements to sound if you were trying to escape a factory of entities searching and chasing you in dark crevices. The enemies sounds are dynamic and change the pace of the game when they arrive on screen. I felt fully immersed when playing.
However, something that did lack for me, was some script, either by text or voice acting. At times I felt like I wanted to know more about San. Why was he in the factory in the first place? Why were there other people who looked just like him there, were they all also trying to escape or only some? How or why have these machine enemies been ‘corrupted’? How come others motivated to help him escape when they looked so different to him, how did he know they were not dangerous? Where would he going too? Why was it so important to re-collect the fragments of the tree? Why am I bothering to climb this level for this little blue square that I have no idea what it does.
It seems that there was so much story to this game, that might have been missed. These were things that by playing the game through, it is clear is eventually up to our interpretation, but some guidance or background would have developed that story and investment a little more for me.
Secondly, there are a few NPC’s that you work with that try to help you escape. They can destroy enemies or help you up ledges. On some parts of the game the level is a split where you also help allies get across to ledges. I anticipated eventually being able to double down and play both characters simultaneously to manipulate the puzzle. However, this never happened. Although this made me breathe a small sigh of relief in the earlier part of the game, I felt a bit disappointed that the opportunity was there to do this but there was no execution. Especially as your NPC allies’ are with you for most of the game.
The gameplay is short, running between 2-3 hours depending on your speed. I would have enjoyed a longer game and I hope in the future for a sequel that delivers exactly that. Despite my above comments, It is likely one of my favourite ‘short’ games that I have played. For everything I have mentioned, and for what it is – A short 2D side scroller puzzle platformer, – it really is smoothly executed throughout. I had a lot of fun. If you enjoy rubix cubes, and heckling your friends as puzzle master, this is likely not the game for you. If you enjoy platform adventure with puzzle thrown in, with a game that doesn’t punish you or leave you soft locking yourself to restart a checkpoint, then this game is perfect for you.
Out of Line is a 2D side scrolling platformer puzzle game. The game is gorgeous, and just enough challenging that you won’t rage quit. Join San on this cute adventure to help him escape a terrifying factory. The art style is beautiful, the mechanics are extremely smooth and sound. For those who like relaxing short games, the gameplay runs at around 2-3 hours, and for what it it is, you are getting a lovely evening of gameplay that won’t make you feel panicked or pressured to race to the end. The only thing you may come away with is more questions than answers when it comes to the story. A lack of context plays a role in this, and it does not get clearer. However, each player may have their own answer to what the story held.
Out of Line is available now on PS4, Xbox One, Switch (reviewed) and PC.
Developer: Nerd Monkeys
Publisher: Hatinh Interactive
Disclaimer: In order to complete this review, we were provided with a promotional copy of the game. For our full review policy, please go here.
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