Linelight is one of the very best puzzle games I’ve played in a while. I want to make that very clear from the outset so that if you’re just looking for a quick verdict, you can now go off and buy it and enter into a world of taxing-yet-relaxing (retaxing sounds too much like an unwelcome visit from the HMRC) puzzling free of any spoilers. Linelight is a game as much about discovering things for yourself as it is about wrapping your brain around conundrums, and so if you’re puzzle game fan of the trusting kind, just take my word for it and plunge head-first into this steaming hot bath of brain Radox.
If you need a little more convincing, or just want to learn a bit more about the game itself, here are a few thoughts on Brett Taylor’s minimalist masterpiece.
Hold The Line
And it is a masterpiece – a clever game about hitting switches, shifting bridges, and avoiding hazards that makes your jaw drop with its design even as it makes you feel like you’re the clever one. The visual design is beautiful in its simplicity, creating a network of thin lines along which you must guide a little glowing nugget of light. As you progress, you’ll encounter branching paths, gates and bridges and switches to be flipped and manipulated, and angry red counterparts that have their own set paths and should be avoided.
Six worlds of increasingly intricate networks and mechanisms await. Each of them are arranged like masterfully wrought circuit boards, as if you were guiding an electrical pulse from A to B. These worlds, while large, reveal themselves slowly. They’ll wait for you to complete the present puzzle or, if you fancy, move on when you’re ready. Linelight’s worlds contain optional collectible stars and puzzles that aren’t mandatory, so often if you get stuck, you can move on. But the game is so languid and gentle in atmosphere and tone, that I never once felt frustrated enough to simply ‘power on’ ahead.
That’s not to say it isn’t challenging. Careful planning and well-timed execution are key for the game’s later stages, but Linelight is a game where taking your time and doing things at your own pace is encouraged. Indeed, being a puzzle game rooted in absolute purity of gameplay, there is no real replayability to speak of. Once you’ve solved the puzzles, there’s no real reason to return until time has smudged the memories of your methods of victory, so making the most of your first playthrough is crucial.
I don’t really want to say too much. Linelight is a triumph in terms of discovery through gameplay. There’s no tutorial to speak of in this game. Instead, Linelight relies on simple controls and a superb gradient of difficulty that metes out patterns and puzzles gradually. Though the puzzles can become rather complex, the elements are all introduced fairly gradually. This ensures that you learn all you need to before taking on harder challenges. This not only allows for maximum satisfaction when you successfully plot and think your way through an area, but also resulted in a number of fluid, almost unconscious solutions as I sailed through sections feeling very pleased with myself indeed.
Occasionally, when it comes to gaming’s more overwrought puzzle experiences, you can sometimes almost hear the designer saying ‘look how clever I am’. But the finest puzzle games find a way to allow the player to share in that feeling. Portal, for example, is a game with a brilliantly simple but gloriously clever premise at its heart. It makes us feel intelligent and buoyant when we solve the challenges. It gives us the illusion of agency in discovery, yet still wows us with its design. The same can be said of Linelight, in its own way. Here is a game that delivers moments of pure pleasure. It does so as an aesthetic experience, in the captivating construction of its worlds, and as an arty puzzler yielding precious eureka moments of fulfilment.
It’s just a joy to play; a wonderful game to ease into and simply soak in for a while. That feeling is helped along by a lovely soundtrack. Wistful piano tinkles about in the background, occasionally punctuated by the rhythmic movements of those aforementioned red beams. Touch one, and it’s curtains; but the checkpointing is most generous, with the game instantly respawning you for another crack at the last puzzle.
All Good Things
To be honest, it’s difficult to come up with many detractions. There’s no mouse functionality in the main menu. That this is perhaps one of the worst things I can point to pretty much says it all. There are maybe a few minor issues with colour banding, and my DualShock 4’s D-Pad initially inverted top and bottom. As you can see, I’m really having to scrape the barrel here to find faults.
I suppose the saddest thing is that it has to end, and you really won’t want it to. If I may offer a little advice to those of you who do get it…don’t speed through it all at once. Linelight, like all puzzle games really, loses some of its magic in repeat playthroughs, even if there are extra collectibles and hidden puzzles to help prolong the game’s life. The first run through will only take you a handful of hours, so savour everything that you can. There are few finer games this year so far.
Platform: PC (reviewed) | PS4
Developer: My Dog Zorro
Publisher: My Dog Zorro
Review copy provided by publisher.
A Fine Line
An early contender for game of the year, Linelight is a minimalistic, meditative masterpiece, and an excellent puzzle game that will utterly captivate you . If you’re a genre fan in any way, or just like the idea of a chilled-out slice of pure gameplay, give it a look.