Puzzle games are an escape. They challenge your mind by presenting it with a problem, and a set of rules that the problem must be solved within. Usually this challenge is enjoyable, if a little frustrating, as the solution is found.
Timelie is a puzzle game, but it doesn’t stick to the rules. Everything you know about solving puzzles should be forgotten, because here time is the key mechanic that you’ll be working with above everything else.
If that doesn’t worry you, then let’s get into the Timelie review.
In Timelie players take on the role of a young girl trapped in what appears to be a strange facility. Within minutes the girl has stumbled upon her ability to manipulate time, and space to a degree, and uses it to swiftly avoid capture at the hands of some merciless machines.
After a brief introductory tutorial, you’re left to solve your way through each level on your own. These levels take the form of offices, though they look like they’ve been ripped right out of a dystopian cyberpunk future.
Initially you’ll only have coloured doors with terminals that control them to compete with, but soon those aggressive robots rear their heads once more, and you’ll have to work hard to avoid capture. The robots will pursue the young girl if they see her, and they’re much faster than her, so being seen is not an option.
As you progress through the game, the levels become even more complex, requiring you to manage multiple characters, including a ginger cat, and trap, deceive, and generally do everything you can to get out of a level without being seen.
Every level in Timelie revolves around creating a timeline that sees each character escape safely. The timeline will pause automatically, but you can wait and see what the patrol routes of the enemies in the area are.
In this way, Timelie feels more like a top down version of Metal Gear Solid 2, but without the dog tags to collect. Sneaking past enemies is easy if you’ve monitored their route correctly, but there are still surprises to be found.
When multiple characters come into play, you’ll find yourself pausing and rewinding the timeline just so that you can get a character’s movement right. This process of trial and error can be frustrating, but it’s a core part of the game, and many of the puzzles are frustrating at some point.
Outside elements will influence the path of enemies, and sometimes they’ll actively block the path behind them. Every level feels varied enough that you never get bored, or even want to stop playing.
You never need to restart a level, because you can simply rewind the timeline. The simplicity of this concept won’t hit home until you play the game, and it’s refreshingly quick and easy when used.
Running Out of Time
Some levels will have broken floors that need to be rebuilt. This adds a new layer on top of simply escaping, and forces you to be clever about the path you choose. If you prioritize the wrong thing, you’ll end up getting stuck or caught.
At first you only have the power to rebuild one section of a level at a time, but soon new options open up that reset your position, and the timeline. You never expect this, but when it does happen it almost adds a new level on top of the current one, making for much more relaxing sessions.
The most intense, and fun, levels feature a wall of deletion. The level slowly deletes behind you, forcing you to think and act quickly. In these levels one simple mistake can cause the entire timeline to be irrelevant. Forcing you to rewind to the beginning, and start the level over again.
After a few levels you’ll encounter your main companion throughout Timelie, a small ginger cat. The game does a great job of demonstrating this feline’s abilities through its appearances earlier on, so much so that you understand precisely how they work when you finally get to control it.
The cat can be used to distract enemies who would otherwise guard the critical path indefinitely. They’ll chase it when they see it, and respond to its meow, as long as they’re within the circle of noise.
Luckily the cat can escape through small tunnels in each level that the young girl can’t. These are generally a good indicator of at least one part of the level’s solution, but it’s easy to get things wrong if you overthink them.
The cat can also be used to activate pressure pads, which will open doors throughout levels. In these levels in particular, it’s essential that you get your timing right. Never before has time itself been such an important mechanic, and these are the moments that this really begins to hit home.
Timelie is definitely a puzzle game, because it requires you to take a moment and soak in the level before you even attempt it. In some cases you can try out some movements first, but it’s often better to wait and see how things pan out.
This might make it sound easy, like the solution simply appears before you, but that’s so far from the truth. Each level is built around you knowing where the enemies are going to be, and it plays with those expectations.
In a way, you’re not only fighting against the enemies within the level, you’re also fighting against the level itself. While there’s one clear path through it all, that path can be easily blocked, or become inaccessible as a result of your actions.
If you manage to overcome levels in a particularly good time though, there are rewards. Some levels award a Relic for getting through them quickly, which in turn encourages you to go back and replay older ones.
Replayability is helped by the game’s soundtrack, which echoes the actions of your character and enemies. It has a cyberpunk feel to it, mixed in with something that almost lends itself to the Final Fantasy series.
I found myself even loving the look of the menu icons. The UI has been very well designed, which not only made me want to pay for longer, it made me want to replay the whole game.
If you boil this Timelie review down, the game is little more than a puzzler. You have a set of problems to deal with, the levels, and a set of rules within which you must solve them, time itself.
But there’s something so different and fresh about Timelie that it doesn’t feel anything like just another stealth puzzle game. The thrill of sneaking past enemies, with them unknowingly floating just around the corner behind you at times, is fantastic.
Yet, the general concept of the game, being able to see forward in time and plan your route, should make each level dull and uninspiring. It’s impressive just how wrong the game makes you look when a level plays out right.
At around five hours long, Timelie won’t take up too much of your time, unless you give in to the urge to replay it. It will change your perspective of indie puzzle games though, and if you’re after something that’s fresh and surprises you, I couldn’t recommend anything else more.
A code for this review was provided by the developer.