Perfection – elusive, easy to imagine, and hard to realize – eternally taunts us. How appropriate then that a new video game all about stopping time to create perfect moments is a near-perfect interactive experience itself.
Thai developer Urnique’s new masterpiece, Timelie, follows a girl (I’ll call her Timelie) escaping imprisonment. Many games begin with a similar setup, but what sets Timlie apart is its mystery. We know nothing about Timlie or her context. For all we know, the game’s universe could be a dream or alternative reality.
But regardless of context, Timelie’s feelings shine through thanks to tender animations and powerful, metaphorical presentation. The game’s first environments contain looming, giant syringes and Timelie’s fear is palpable. When she learns new abilities, something that should be empowering, she seizes as melancholic melodies play in the background. Timelie’s trembling terror combines with the somber music to upend expectations and raise chilling questions with later developments only continuing the trend. I won’t dare spoil anything, just know the game offers no cheap answers nor does it cop-out as even the final revelations offer just as many questions as answers.
Simple but cerebral, Timelie’s gameplay engages from the get-go. The game is a stealth-based puzzler with an isometric, third-person perspective that involves time manipulation. Rather than controlling the character directly, you control a mental projection, akin to Katana Zero.
Timelie has the ability to stop time and see all possible outcomes. During these periods you take control of her projection, play around with possible routes, and plot out the best course of action. Then, in real-time, Timelie executes your plan with pinpoint accuracy. The feeling is incredible and not just because of the fluid, cinematic manner in which your plans unfold. Finding the right path is consistently challenging and ever evolving.
Early in the game Timelie meets a fellow escapee, an adorable cat. The cat not only breathes personality, with lovingly detailed animations, it enhances the games already brilliant puzzle formula. Executing plans requires dexterous precision and the introduction of Timelie’s feline friend is only the first of many creative additions. These additions all alter your perspective and complicate your understanding of the characters – meaning Timelie’s gameplay boasts both satisfying progression and narrative heft.
Many of gaming’s greatest achievements involve organic, complimentary gameplay ideas, but they only serve to propel the plot forward: the interactivity is merely a tool for the game to tell its story. Timelie‘s gameplay goes further and beats with a thematic pulse.
All of us fantasize about upcoming challenges: whether they be a date, sports event, or a job interview. Just like our heroine, we project ourselves outward and imagine things going perfectly. Normally, it’s unhealthy to get lost in such thoughts because nothing can ever be so controlled which makes Timelie‘s empowerment fascinating since it toys with these notions of imagination. Is this all daydreaming, is any of it real, does it matter? The game juggles many of these ideas at once without getting too bogged down in exact answers. It gives you enough to surmise, then lets your heartstrings do the rest.
When I say Timelie is a perfect game, I don’t mean it’s flawless. Nothing is – for example, Timelie’s walking animation did glitch out one time. Rather, Timelie is perfect because it achieves what so few games do: a genuine union between gameplay and theme. It’s a treasure.