Out of Line is out in full now, setting players off on a magical journey in the shoes of San. Tasked with escaping from an army of mysteriously corrupted machinery and armed only with a golden spear, San must find his way forward, learning more about himself and the world around him as he goes. But can this gorgeous-looking puzzle-platformer hit the bullseye?
Story – Less is More?
Things kick off in the Factory when San and his people are attacked by machinery corrupted by some sort of malevolent force. After narrowly escaping with his life, San continues on his journey through various other gorgeously-rendered biomes, meeting some other characters along the way such as a big guy (named Big Guy) with a big spear, a big stompy robot, and a mysterious old guy (named Old Guy) wielding a staff.
As mentioned in my Out of Line preview, the game takes a fairly minimalist approach to its story. Not a single line of dialogue or text appears throughout the game, which is certainly an interesting narrative choice. It lets the gameplay and the art style speak for themselves, and there’s a compelling argument to be made for ‘less is more’ with regards to story. No doubt everyone can think of at least game (or other form of media) that dug its own grave with the shovel of over-explanation.
Still, it could be just as easily argued that it ends up obscuring the story that the creators were trying to tell. Out of Line is clearly a game that wants to leave a lot up to interpretation, but when almost the entire narrative is such, it’s hard to feel particularly invested, as beautiful as it all looks. It’s supposed to be the story of San from beginning to end, but the only motivation I could really feel out was ‘escape the horrible things, then run to the right’.
I ended the game with a barrage of questions that didn’t feel like they’d been satisfactorily addressed. What was the nature of the mysterious purple corruption, or the blue/gold power cubes? Is the story a stealth allegory for the perils of industrialisation? Is there timey-wimey stuff going on at the end? Does Big Guy have a real name?
Nevertheless, it’s hard not to be charmed by the game throughout. That very predilection for hands-off storytelling really does let the player sink into the gameplay and the visuals. And in many ways, wanting all those questions answereddoes suggest that I wanted more story, which is perhaps better than the alternative.
Gameplay – You Can’t Be Spear-ious
Out of Line is primarily a puzzle platformer. The earlier stages of the game – those that were included in the demo that we covered for the preview – focus more on the platforming, while later portions lean more heavily into the puzzle aspect. San’s main tool is a golden spear that he can send flying in an arc to hit buttons, jam gears and act as a temporary platform or lever.
Those spear-related puzzles will form the majority of the gameplay throughout. Expect a lot of pulling levers to move platforms into correct configurations and timing jumps just right to get to the next screen. For all the relative limitations of the spear mechanic, though, the developers do a good job at varying puzzle complexity. That variety primarily comes from the different environmental elements you can interact with: early on it’s simple levers that move platforms, later on you’ll see steam vents and valves, machinery operated by little critters, and even straight-up portals.
Escalation, too, is expertly handled. New mechanics and concepts are introduced fairly organically, before ramping up the complexity and scale of the puzzles. The solutions are signposted reasonably well, as well: rarely will you find yourself with no clue how to solve a puzzle, though it does do a good job of not making things too easy. The camera zooms in and out automatically, helpfully showing the scale of each puzzle and making each screen feel like its own self-contained ‘level’. There are a few collectibles hidden away too. Similarly, these are not always particularly difficult to find, but actually accessing them is often another matter entirely.
The one thing San’s spear can’t do is fight off any enemies, so there are several parts of the game that will see you running from various nasty beasties. Fairly soon, however, you’ll meet Big Guy, with his big spear, with whom you can work in tandem. San solves puzzles and forces critters over towards Big Guy, and he stabs them with his spear and frees them from the weird corrupting blight that’s sent them haywire, which usually frees them up to help with further puzzles. Old Guy, too, has his own weapon with its own abilities, though you’ll only meet him very late in the game.
This multi-character element to the game, in fact, seems the biggest missed opportunity. The sections with Big Guy are some of the most fun bits of the game, using two different sets of skills to solve challenges, but he’ll frequently disappear for ages at a time. Similarly, Old Guy seems like he could have had his own suite of abilities, but he pops up in the last twenty minutes of the game, seemingly just to unlock a few contraptions for San. It’s a shame – the character design is charming, and thought has clearly gone into making these characters unique. More interaction with them, perhaps even a character-swapping mechanic, feels like it could have been really fun.
Still, by and large Out of Line has some inventive puzzles and enjoyable gameplay, even if it doesn’t feel like its full potential was quite reached. Things run fairly smoothly, too – it’s not without the occasional bug, but as is often the case the development team is keeping a close eye on community feedback and providing patches and updates swiftly.
Graphics and Audio – Tell Me a Story
It’s impossible to talk about Out of Line without mentioning its beautiful graphics. The game has a beautiful visual style, halfway between a story book and a watercolour painting. There’s a wonderful sense of depth, and it really gets across the sense of the natural beauty of the world as San explores more of it. The character design, too, is fun and original. In the early stages there are various other NPCs who look identical to San, but once he escapes the Factory and starts meeting other folks and other creatures, the creativity is evident.
The sound work continues its good track record from the demo, too. Pedro J. Costa’s ethereal music carries you through the game, and the sound work of Alexandre Wyse and Alex Ruger does wonders to make the storybook world feel alive. As promised by its preview build, it’s a very polished game, and at only a few hours long, certainly worth finding the time to play.
Out of Line was reviewed on PC with a Steam Key provided by Homerun PR.