Linelight Review

Leonardo da Vinci once said, "Simplicity is the ultimate sophistication." While there is certainly merit to that sentiment, this quote can be very divisive, especially when applied to the arts. Regardless of which form abstract art takes, the common critique you see from the detractors sounds something like, "A child could paint that." I get it though. Even though I can see the beauty in a Pollock or a Picasso, I understand the sentiment on the opposite side of the aisle. At first glance, Linelight looks like abstraction in motion. The game's aesthetic is comprised entirely of lines and simple shapes, the music is minimalistic, and there is a complete absence of dialogue. But it's that absence of the more traditional, magniloquent video game trappings that makes Linelight so alluring.

You might see others use words like "zen-like" or "peaceful" thrown around rather liberally when describing this game. These descriptors aren't unwarranted though. Over my six or seven hours with Linelight, 90% of the game felt like relaxing next to a leaf fire. At the outset, your task seems straightforward enough, follow the linear path and solve deceptively simple puzzles on your way. As any good game in the genre worth its salt will do, the puzzles in Linelight become increasingly more encumbered and complex as you progress. But that added difficulty seems to fly in the face of what this game is striving to be.

Linelight is at its best when the player is solving puzzles quickly and keeping the line in a constant state of forward momentum. In the earlier levels, the solutions generally come quick and keep the pace lively and fresh, while still being challenging. As the game progresses, the puzzles naturally become more complicated and the new mechanic introduced in each world becomes more mentally taxing than the last. In most puzzle games of this nature, the added degree of difficulty would be a welcomed addition. However, as I said previously, Linelight is a game that feels better with tight, succinct puzzles. So when my momentum came to a halt and I found myself sitting there, mulling over a puzzle for ten or fifteen minutes, it felt like something important to the core conceit of Linelight was lost.      

There are six worlds in Linelight and each world is comprised of roughly thirty small puzzles. This isn't taking into account the bonus, hidden puzzles that lie tucked away just outside the borders of the main path. Additionally, there's a robust helping of endgame content. Each world introduces a new mechanic that you use throughout that level in order to conquer its puzzles. The majority of these added layers of complexity are welcome and provide necessary variety. However, world six introduced a mechanic that I was a little less enamored with. The puzzles became slower as a result of this mechanic and the fluid, snappy nature of the earlier puzzles trailed off and gave way to a slower, methodical affair; which ultimately ended up bogging me down and pulling me out of the serene trance this game can induce.

Apart from the options menu and the credits, there are no written directions in Linelight; nor is there any audible dialogue. However, I found myself invested in the plight of our silent protagonist who just happens to be... a line. I know it sounds absurd, but there is a fantastic little tale of acceptance, loss, and freedom nestled between all the clever puzzles. Yes, it takes a little reading between the lines, (sorry) but there is a clear, defined narrative structure here. I have my own interpretation of the story, and I'm sure it will be different from yours. But hey, I love stories that utilize ambiguity. These kinds of stories allow people to formulate their own ideas as to what the message might be; and thinking critically instead of being spoon-fed yarn is the much more interesting route to take in my opinion.

I would be remiss if I didn't mention Linelight's music and the impact it has on the overall tone of the game. Similar to a Port Blue or Tracey Chattaway album, the music weaves minimalistic piano with soft percussion. It's another component that further puts the player in a state of calm. At the end of each world, there is a point where the music gets even more sparse and is reduced to a few major key piano chords. The music in these instances is somber and yet hopeful, which reflects the direction of the story exquisitely.

Even if you don't want to assign a narrative to Linelight, or if you don't care about ambient music, or if you're not thrilled about the very minimal visuals, Linelight is still one of the best puzzle games I've played since The Witness. It's like weaving your way through a Piet Mondrian painting set to the tune of background study music. Sure, it has some pacing issues and some questionable puzzle mechanics, but Linelight is a puzzle game that stands alongside some of the greats in its genre and it deserves a lot more recognition.