Out of Line, the latest title by developer Nerd Monkeys, seems to be one of their most ambitious titles to date. They have a few games published on Steam, but the jump in quality seems astounding based on some cursory research of their previous games. We received a preview build which lasted roughly 45-minutes, and these are our takeaways.
I generally hate to compare titles from one developer to another since I feel like it can work as a way to slight both, but the first game that instantly came to mind was Ori. Since it is one of my top 10 games of all time, I was pretty excited for my initial impressions of the game. The game did nothing to dissuade me from the comparison (even if it is quite different in its movement) or the fact that this can truly be something special should it expand upon what has been showcased in this preview build.
Art and Sound
Art design is always pretty subjective, but I feel like a lot of 2-D puzzle-platformers excel in this area, and Out of Line is no exception. Painterly strokes can be seen across both fore and background elements of which are all hand-drawn. These sections are especially powerful since your character residing on the mid-plane evokes feelings of integrating you deeper and deeper into the story. You get that sense of being a part of the story, vs just experiencing the story as an outside viewer, an issue of which I feel more often bubbles up with side-scrollers than any other genre. I have to note the use of color as well. The deep blues, the curse-like purples and alarming red of the machines tears at scenes that are otherwise tinted with tranquil hues of soft greens and yellows. The environments immediately set the scene for what is to come. Further fleshing out the world is the spectacular sound-design.
What better way to elevate a scene than with a stellar soundtrack? From the majestic light sequences with soft and fantastical themes to the more dark and brooding tones once the machines come into play, the blend of the visual and the auditory complement one another to such a degree that it seamlessly blends to pull the intended emotion out as it relates to the scene. Out of Line appears to be one of those games where you just want to take screengrabs left and right.
Playing 45-minutes of a game doesn’t usually allow for you to dig deep into game systems, but it is often enough time to get an idea where the game can expand from there. Out of Line does a great job from its first impression through teasing of what the game can offer in further expanding its systems. It does a fantastic mix of utilizing puzzle mechanics to set-up its platforming. Early on, you’ll get a spear-like object that you can throw into walls to then jump on the spear to propel you upward. It’s simple, but it feels organic. That feeling further extends when you run by gear sections. There are various areas where you have to place an item or stand on a pedestal to make a gate move so you can pass. There are gears holding the gate and, with no guidance from the game needed, out of instinct, I just chucked the spear into the gear to jam it so that I could cross through the area. But what about the spear? There is a way to call it back, and it just feels so good. It’s very superhero-esque when it comes tumbling back to you. It’s that sense of satisfaction of overcoming an obstacle no matter how small. That feeling is further developed by the way it animates and by the whirring noise it makes on the way back. Again, it’s not some super-extravagant tool, but it works and feels great. While this is your main tool, I ran across another as well. Literally… another spear that is less flashy than the one your main character has and only stays in a spot for about 10 seconds or so before having to be picked back up again.
The addition of a second spear (and in some cases 3 in total) was a great idea to showcase the depth of gameplay as well as showcase some more advanced puzzling segments with an AI partner. You essentially have to control aspects of the environment with your spear to help your AI partner traverse through the level. They do the same for you. At various points you have to use your spear as a lever to move blocks/beams, and once lined up, your AI partner will travel through and then help you get through as well. It’s an interesting dynamic that worked flawlessly thus far. My worry with AI partners is always their effectiveness and what should be a challenging puzzle section becomes challenging due to your AI partners. No issues here. As with all dynamics in the 45-minute playthrough, it worked without a hitch.
The puzzle sections thus far were relatively easy, but they did a solid job of slowly ramping that difficulty up. From just learning how to jump with one spear, to juggling multiple while hopping across a path, it just all makes sense. My favorite sequences were the chase sections where machines were constantly moving toward you. Whether it was horizontally or vertically, it forces you to think quickly to avoid being caught. Those moving sections are supplemented with your typical platformer areas both with and without an AI partner. It felt like there was a solid mix of solo/AI partner play. I’ll be curious to see how the developers dig deeper into this idea in the full release.
From what I can tell, you and your fellow workers must escape the machines that are ruining your home. It really feels like the connections you create with your fellow buddies will play a role in tugging at the heartstrings since, if the preview is anything to go by, there will be a handful of them that won’t make it. The machines were relatively basic in their actions, but their coloring and physical appearances set the tone for the tension that could be in the full release.
It’s impossible to say if the game will continue to build upon its solid foundation, but I’d wager that it will. It has absolutely nailed the art style, soundtrack and gameplay in the preview build. Assuming the quality holds throughout the entirety of the game, Out of Line just might be a game we are talking about for years the years to come.
Out of Line is set to release in 2021 and is being developed by Nerd Monkeys and published by Hatinh Interactive.
Look for more coverage from us on Out of Line in the future.