Puzzle games can be pretty hit or miss for me. I don’t have a lot of patience and am easily frustrated with most puzzle logic. If the gameplay or concept doesn’t hook me in right off the bat, I’m usually bouncing off it fairly quickly. Then there are those titles that “click” with me on a level I didn’t expect. Portal is a great example of a puzzle game that I absolutely loved because even though it was fun to play, what really got me was the writing, presentation, and environmental storytelling. Whenever I think or talk about Portal and it’s sequel, it’s usually in the context of its jokes, memes, and J. K. Simmons. Neverout had me similarly locked right from the start. Dumped into a mysterious prison, you’re forced to navigate through a series of puzzle rooms filled with traps in hopes of getting out. That doesn’t sound like much to get excited about but if you’re like me and have a love for a certain cult classic film from the 2000s, it’s easy to get down with this short but sweet puzzle game sporting some sophisticated design.
For a brief, shining beautiful moment, I thought Neverout was a licensed game based on The Cube, one of the greatest films no one saw. In it, like the game, you’re thrown into a mysterious prison made up of cubed rooms and given no context how you got there or clues on how to get out. The game offers no story. Except for the sounds of a scuffle at the start of the game, there’s no way to tell how you go there or if anyone is actually watching you move from room to room. A modest tutorial introduces to the game’s basic mechanics where you move along a grid that makes up the walls, ceiling, and floors of each cubed room. Some creative three-dimensional thinking is required because you’re allowed to walk on walls and the ceiling. Well, that’s not technically true — you don’t walk on vertical surfaces but rather, the room rotates and reorients itself. These transitions radically change the design of platforms, movable blocks, spike traps, and teleport pads, forcing you to think several moves ahead in order to give you a traversable path to the exit or avoid being crushed to death.
To escape the Neverout cube, you must complete four zones that hold thirteen rooms each. Like most puzzle games, some rooms are easier than others and don’t require more than few rotations and block moving to open a path to the exit. Some, though, can be a lot more complicated and take several restarts (i.e. death) to figure them out. There are no enemies to worry about but dying is still a concern whether it’s stepping through an electrical field, getting crushed by blocks, or walking through a spike trap. The room reverts to its original state upon death and I was pleased with the speedy load times, so you won’t have to wait long to try out another solution. Death is a tricky thing because it’s not like the room traps are hidden or come as a surprise. It’s when you’re not paying attention or lose track of sliding blocks that dying gets to be a problem. You’re free to return to the main hub at any time, which is a nice way to take a breather from the puzzles that give you a hard time. As we all know, a few moments away from something can open the mental gates to new insights and possibilities, paving the way for those eventual “aha!” moments followed by the comforting warmth of self-satisfaction.
Flipping the cube, guiding blocks to magnetic pads, and using teleporters to instantly jump from one corner to another can be engrossing. So much so, in fact, that the interruption of the game’s flow when you complete a zone and find yourself back in the main hub was jarring - and unpleasant. I say that because because the game often tells me I’m done sooner than I’d like. Neverout is a short game that can be finished in a couple of hours and I was surprised how sad I was when it was all over. It was the same feeling I had at the end of Portal but sadly, Neverout doesn’t have as much staying power as Valve’s game. I simply wasn’t ready to be done and I pined for more. Furthermore, finishing the game doesn’t yield any sort of explanation of your predicament or offer a satisfying glimpse into the larger world. It’s hard to be too disappointed when the game does other things well, namely puzzles and creating an atmosphere that evokes a feeling of claustrophobia and disorientation.
I suppose it says a lot about a game if the biggest thing I’m complaining about is the short length. I hope Neverout gets extra puzzles or a sequel down the line because it really is fun to play. Plus, a sequel might give the game some longevity. Beyond replaying to collect trophies (though to be honest, you’d have to work hard not to get them all on the first playthrough) and taking advantage of the game’s PlayStation VR support, Neverout is more than its surface level homage to a really great movie. I really liked Neverout because it offers the right level of the challenge and atmosphere to keep you engaged all the way through to the end.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.