Timelie isn’t exactly a walk in the park for a stealth-puzzler game, but uses an intuitive time-traveling mechanic to incredible degrees as players sneak through a relatively short premise. A variety of challenging levels are somewhat worth the trial-and-error, while it doesn’t add any payoffs to the story. Despite some frustrating puzzles, it’s hard to not appreciate the game’s simple art style and soothing soundtrack which accompany players throughout their experience.
Created by indie developers at Urnique Studio in Thailand, Timelie stars an unnamed young girl who wakes up in an abandoned, neon-soaked laboratory that’s slowly crumbling. She’s gifted with an ability to manipulate time, while using it to rebuild bridges or rewind herself out of situations. To escape, she has to collect four totems which help power a mysterious clock. But stopping her are the lab’s merciless security bots, programmed to guard every hall and kill anybody in sight. After a surprise meeting, the girl also finds a cat, who quickly becomes her only companion throughout the game. Both depend on each other to survive while discovering a way out of the void.
Timelie is built around over a dozen isometric levels that players have to safely navigate through by pointing-and-clicking. Like many navigational puzzles, you make it out by unlocking a combination of doors without being detected by enemies. If caught in their vision, they charge in for an one-hit kill and the level pauses.
Here’s the twist: dying is just the start of it. Players plan out all of their moves by going forwards and backwards through time. From studying guard patterns to testing out different sneaking routes, the feature works so well because of how simple it is. In Timelie‘s many doors, it’s also important to know which one to open first (ahead of time).
Designed like a time bar you see on media players, you can fast forward and rewind the game in real time. The best part is that Timelie remembers all of your moves until you start a new one. Though it feels like cheating, the game’s progression quickly proves players wrong and pushes them to use it to every advantage. This is where Timelie shines by encouraging players to experiment with their puzzle-solving. It was incredibly refreshing to be able to redo a small blunder while timing my clicks correctly to weave past guards. Unlike most puzzle platformers, Urnique Studio creates a deeper experience by letting players continue.
But some unintended consequences came from my first playthrough. Of course, every puzzle solved came with an even harder one in the next. This lead to some frustrating trial-and-error as my character struggled to stay hidden. Mini tasks including reconstructing a bridge required me to fetch energy cube. It wouldn’t be so bad if it wasn’t shut behind two doors, locked by panels across the map (which are also guarded).
If you’re short on patience, Timelie‘s tedious puzzle-within-a-puzzle-within-a-puzzle design is enough to make the most experienced gamers groan at some point. Its lack of open-ended solutions also mean there’s only one way to beat a level. Missing a step in the beginning also forces you to rewind all the way back and replicate the steps again. The game has a habit of making players feel like they’re almost done, only to see an immovable guard in the way.
It gets more complicated as players navigate both the girl and cat to a level’s end. You also control Timelie‘s adorable feline friend, who shakes the game up with their ability to step on pressure pads and unlock doors. It can meow to distract and lead guards away from doors. Later on, the ability can even be used to make guards open things (hint-nudge-wink).
Timelie‘s character switching also means you’re tasked with frequent escorting (which is easier said than done). Ironically, time is of the essence and players are given a certain amount of it to carry out all their moves. Players later learn to save time by planning steps for the girl and cat simultaneously – something which works surprisingly well with the help of time scrubbing (You can even execute a plan for one character, rewind back and work on the other).
At launch, it’s lack of in-game hints make this mechanic harder while coming short of accessibility for different types of thinkers.
But determination helps unravel Timelie‘s mysterious no-dialogue story, filled to the brim with subliminal messages. Many of these are sewn into the game’s gorgeous 3D minimalist art style, seen in games such as Hitman GO and Journey. Its neon-soaked maps are also complimented with a dark blue void that’s calming to see. The result is a unique neo-noir aesthetic made wholesome. A high production value was also given for Timelie‘s soundtrack which is nothing short of riveting.
Though its ending is muddled, Timelie still delivers a twist that makes a second playthrough all the more different. A secret ending is also included if players complete all the puzzles under certain conditions.
Timelie definitely stands on its own as a serving of puzzles that naturally mixes stealth and strategy. Though (subjectively) short around 8 hours, the game is worth an appreciation for turning the clocks back on an underrated genre. Its short length is justified with levels that get bigger with its challenges. In hindsight, Urnique Studio should be open to making a sequel that caters to different levels of creativity that can happen with a time bar.