Have you ever really felt in the mood for a co-op game but haven't been able to find anyone willing to play with you? Timelie, the debut title from Urnique Studios, is a game which just might scratch that particular itch.
Designed to be played in "single player co-op" style, Timelie gives players two characters to control: a nameless girl and an utterly adorable cat. Working together, the duo must utilize both the girl's time-warping powers and the cat's tiny size (lets it sneak through the vents!) and loud meows (can distract enemies for a short time!) to explore the surreal world around them, escape from patrolling robots and complete a variety of challenging levels.
Timelie's gameplay combines classic stealth tactics with the protagonist's unique time-manipulation ability. The goal of each level is simple: reach the door or escape pod without being caught by one of the robot sentinels. The robots are armed with powerful search beams, and will capture and destroy either the girl or the cat as soon as they see them. Luckily, your control over the timeline allows you to rewind and fix your mistake each time that you are caught. Once both characters have successfully reached the exit, you can rewind back to the beginning and watch your daring escape in its entirety.
My initial fears that the time-manipulation mechanic would be impossibly complicated were allayed from the very first level. The timeline of each puzzle is laid out like a media player which the girl can play, pause, rewind and fast forward are needed. I found myself greatly appreciating the familiar design, and got the hang of pausing and restarting time fairly quickly.
However, I just as quickly learned that Timelie features quite the learning curve. It is divided into four worlds - groups of levels representing different parts of the sterile, facility-like setting - with each one featuring a significant difficulty spike when compared to the last. I emerged from World I with confidence, only to slowly stumble through World II as a number of powers and mechanics were added - in addition to the challenge rating of levels and number of robots increasing with each and every escape. Later levels are larger in scale, contain up to six, eight or even ten 'bots, and have an entire rainbow of different colored doors which need to be opened using buttons and keypads before you can reach the final exit.
Timelie's greatest fault lies in the combination of this difficulty spike with relatively poor pacing. Despite the "single player co-op" nature of levels comprising most of the game's advertising campaign, the cat only becomes available as a secondary playable character partway through World II. Then, just when you get the more difficult task of working together with the cat down pat, the two are once again separated for the majority of World III. I constantly felt that I wasn't given nearly enough time to adjust to new mechanics before everything had changed once again.
I also felt that, although Timelie is meant to be played as a single-player game, it was much more enjoyable with a partner along for the ride. I turned it into a co-op experience, with myself choosing the girl's path and a partner choosing the cat's. Ultimately, this worked out much better for me.
During some of the later levels, I felt like there was simply too much going on for me to successfully keep track of everything. Studies claim that the human brain can only think about four things at once, and Timelie frequently bombarded me with more than that: the girl's positioning, the cat's, the robots', their assorted powers, which button opened which door and more. Having another person at my side to say "No, we tried that already" or "We need to focus on opening the red door first" made the experience of playing the game far less stressful.
Overall, Timelie was a generally satisfying experience to play. It does not feature dialogue, but gradually reveals the story through clues hidden in the setting, such as symbols representing various stages of the girl's journey. The end of Timelie will certainly leave you with questions - if you're looking for a game with a one hundred percent cut-and-dry ending, then Timelie is not it. If you don't mind a bit of lingering mystery or enjoy trying to figure things out for yourself as you go along, this game might just be right for you.
Story aside, on a graphical level Timelie is a beautiful experience - I especially loved the decision to pair the science fiction design of the levels, with their robots, wires and endlessly blinking machinery, with fantasy backgrounds featuring symbolic constructions such as giant chess pieces or broken handcuffs. The music is also pleasant to listen to, although I found it occasionally getting repetitive when I got stuck on a particular level for too long.
By far, though, Timelie's greatest strength lies in the interaction between its two primary characters. Despite not exchanging a single word, the girl and the cat clearly display a great affection towards one another. The cat risks its life several times throughout the story to save the girl. She leans down to pet the cat during peaceful cutscenes - and, sometimes, the adorable animal even rides on her head as they visit the hub level which connects the different worlds. The interactions between human and feline were both realistic and touching, and I couldn't get enough of it.
Although Timelie is a rather short experience which can be completed in a few hours, it does feature some replay value in the form of "Relic Challenges". These Challenges represent Timelie's achievement system, encouraging players to complete a level without using the cat's meow, without defeating any robots, or without getting caught in a bot's flashlight beam at all. Just be warned, a few of them are quite fiendishly difficult - I still haven't managed to complete all 15!
Timelie will not be a game for everyone. It requires a keen attention to detail and the ability to focus on a variety of constantly changing variables all at once. However, if you are a fan of puzzles requiring thinking outside the box, or want to see a twist on the classic stealth game formula, then Urnique Studios' first game might just be worth checking out. Or, hey, maybe even if you're just a cat lover - seriously, that feline is downright precious!
Kate reviewed Timelie on Steam with a code provided by the publisher.