Out of Line, Nerd Monkeys’ newest upcoming title, sends young San on an adventure, first of escape and then of discovery. Armed with a golden spear but using it as a tool rather than a weapon, San faces plenty of trials ahead of him. But with your help, and a few friendly faces he’ll meet along the way, he’ll come that much closer to learning about himself and his place in the world.
Out of Line launches this summer on Steam and Nintendo Switch, with PS4 and Xbox One versions coming later this year.
Story – Silence is Golden
Out of Line sees players following the story of San, a cute little fellow who’s trying to escape the factory that he once called home, now plagued with enormous robotic monstrosities hell-bent on destruction. Armed with a golden spear, San must travel the land, solving puzzles and meeting new friends along the way as he tries to figure out the world around him.
The game takes a minimalist approach to telling its story, in that there’s no dialogue or conventional text at all, instead trying to express what’s happening purely through the gameplay and visual aspects. This is pretty successful in the broad strokes: the panic of seeing a giant robot snake thing descend from the heavens immediately makes it clear that they are bad news and you need to get running, and seeing other members of San’s community in the background and foreground as you escape makes the scale of the attack quite clear.
It even manages to fit in some of the smaller details in its characterisation of San. Sometimes, when faced with an enemy or a terrifying obstacle of some kind, he will panic and freeze, and the fact that you can’t use the spear as an actual weapon – only as a tool to solve puzzles and platforming challenges – reminds the player that he’s just a kid trying to survive, not some grand action hero.
There are still large gaps in the narrative that aren’t as easily filled by pretty visuals though: you don’t learn that much about San and his people, and it’s difficult to parse how much of the characterisation of San is gleaned solely from the game itself rather than reading than the developers’ notes from the Steam page and their press kit. Would I have picked up on San’s youth and innocence if I had just played the game blind? And if understanding the world of the game and the character you’re playing hinges on external knowledge, why not just include that in the game as the occasional bit of text? It’s certainly a powerful artistic decision, but it’ll be interesting to see if it can pay off in the full version of the game as the story proceeds and expands.
Gameplay – Watch Your Step
Out of Line is a fairly straightforward puzzle platformer. You’ll guide San through each level, from left to right, jumping across gaps and solving puzzles along the way. The main mechanic at play is the use of San’s golden spear, which he picks up fairly early on. It can be thrown at walls to create a temporary platform to jump on, chucked into sets of gears to freeze platforms and barriers in place, and used as a lever to control bits of level geometry from a distance. At any point you can hit a button to recall the spear to you, but make sure it wasn’t holding any massive crushers in place before you do so, otherwise you might be in for a nasty – and fatal – surprise.
The gameplay is broadly simple: puzzles don’t usually require too much effort to solve, and platforming rarely offers much in the way of a challenge, generally serving solely as a means of traversal rather than incorporating that much into the puzzles themselves. The occasional moment of platforming difficulty tends to arise more from a confusion of perspective (the gorgeously-drawn back and foreground designs sometimes makes it unclear what is an actual platform to jump on and what is just set-dressing) than actually challenging level design.
The puzzles fare slightly better, with the spear proving a versatile tool for unblocking passages and moving platforms. In the first part of the preview build, you’ll often find yourself working alongside another member of San’s people, stepping on switches and firing your spear into gears to make sure you’re both able to cross the screen safely and evade the gaze of the terrifying mechanical antagonists. Later on, once San escapes the first area and finds himself in the verdant lands below, a friendly family of critters adds an extra dimension to some puzzles, tasking you with turning off lights so they can pass through and unlock paths for you.
That small nugget of escalation bodes well for the full release of the game, suggesting the team at Nerd Monkeys are keen to add new elements as time goes on to keep the gameplay from becoming stale. It’s a good thing too: Out of Line looks great and is clearly hoping for its story to carry it to an extent, but if the puzzles and platforming don’t keep the interest of its players it’s going to have trouble retaining enough of them until the end of the game.
Graphics and Audio – Masterfully Hand-Crafted
The visual style of Out of Line is arresting, to say the least. It’s got a beautiful, hand-drawn, storybook look to it, and lead artist Francisco Santos readily lists his influences, including impressionist painting and the Studio Ghibli films. It also bears more than a passing resemblance, both in aesthetics and gameplay, to the works of Danish developer Playdead, famous for their titles Limbo and Inside. There’s variety to the artwork, too: the opening area has a darker, more industrial feel to it, but the second has a more natural vibe, with leaves and undergrowth punctuating each scene with rich, autumnal colours. It’ll be interesting to see what the rest of the game looks like, but it’s fair to say it’ll continue the beautiful art style.
The sound work is perfect for the style and atmosphere of the game, with a dreamy, ethereal soundtrack floating over the scene as the action plays out, punctuated occasionally by powerful bass thrums as an enormous alien finds its way on screen. The foley work is impressive, with metallic twinkles as you pick up collectibles and a satisfying twang when leaping off your spear, and the mechanical roar of your antagonists will send you scurrying.
Overall, it’s a game that has clearly had a lot of care poured into it, and even in this relatively early form I only encountered one very minor (and ultimately inconsequential) glitch. Here’s hoping that Out of Line can successfully marry style and substance in its final release, because honestly it’s almost there.
Out of Line was previewed on PC with a Steam key provided by Homerun PR.