Out of Line Review
The protagonist of Out of Line is apparently named San. This is information, however, that I never came across when playing the actual game. There is no dialogue at all; Out of Line prefers to approach its slim storytelling in a subtler fashion. As San, a little, odd looking character, you wield a golden, needle-like spear that you can aim and hurl at walls to get to higher places. You must evade robot enemies, collect mysterious blue items that help restore trees, and assist others as you go, some of whom look exactly like you. Are they really just alternate versions of you? Why do these blue objects restore nature? I can’t tell, which leads me to a significant issue…
Nothing, outside of gameplay actions, is explained. The game takes the classic ‘show, don’t tell’ style and goes perhaps a little too far with it, unfortunately. Some things can be gleaned without any context—clearly San and their allies are escaping from an area where robots wish to keep them imprisoned or perhaps even kill them. Why? It’s unclear, but the official description of the game mentions that this area is a ‘factory’, and so I’m assuming San and co are used as workers or resources for these robots.
One theme that comes through clearly is a sense of camaraderie, of working together. There are various moments where you must rely on the assistance of your allies to progress, like large, ungainly figures that help you up to high areas and defeat your enemies for you when you get near enough to them, or tiny allies that crucially assist you in puzzles by operating mechanisms so you can progress; you can lead the latter around at points and direct them to specific mechanisms purely through your movement, operating these mechanisms in a certain order that allows you to proceed. There are even moments where the game will pause just so your character can give a little wave to another ally before moving on. You help others to proceed, and in return they help you—there is some teamwork at play, even though you never really communicate much with one another. They offer no verbal reason for helping you, nor do you give any to them, and in light of visible danger, more exposition isn’t needed anyway, as you aid one another in fleeing from the intimidating machines and avoiding capture and harm. The danger these machines pose is clear; they are truly menacing, their jarring noises and relentless swooping down to grab you or smash things reminiscent of the robots in The Matrix.
There are various puzzles that force you to play around with moving platforms and oddly expiring sticks to progress. For one, you’ll have to work out which levers to pull in a specific order so that you can pass damaging steam bursts and operate platforms, or predict when to throw your spear into a gear and jam it from moving. The difficulty and platforming on the whole is well-balanced. While stuck at points, I never got to the point where I was fuming or tempted to give up—I usually solved the puzzles after a handful of attempts.
Then there’s the graceful feeling of throwing your spear, leaping atop it, hopping as if on a spring to reach a higher area, and then—just before landing—summoning the spear back to you with a tap of the button, catching it while you continue to run. It’s the one part where things really just click, and it feels as if you’re Steve Rogers grabbing his shield as it shoots back to his hand. The spear also works well later in the game, where you attach a rope to it and then hurl it across to another platform, creating a bridge for you to travel across. But this enjoyable rope feature is sadly underutilised.
A little shallow
The game looks pretty at times, its painted environments of forest-like areas and lovely ancient stone settings a stark contrast to the grim-looking factory at the beginning. Performance issues are minimal; playing on the Nintendo Switch, there was just some slight judder here and there, as well as something—probably a small part of a puzzle which didn’t allow me to pass—failing to trigger during my second playthrough.
However, there’s nothing in Out of Line that excites me, or makes me sit up and take notice. ‘Showing’ can be a wonderful approach for story-telling, but it’s also a tricky one to pull off in terms of making the setting and characters memorable. I don’t think this game managed that effectively, even though it plays well—and is fun—as a game. The closest thing to grabbing my attention would be the spear device, using it to jump up higher or attach to other platforms with a rope, something I’ve not encountered much before in other games. All in all, Out of Line isn’t a terrible experience; I only wished there was a stronger emphasis on establishing its odd setting, along with something more that I could point to as being exceptional.