Developer: Once A Bird
Release Date: July 13, 2021
Probably my biggest pet peeve in puzzle games is having the entire concept of the puzzle be more difficult to figure out than the puzzle itself. Outsider: After Life is one of those kind of puzzle games. While I don’t mind environmental storytelling, it can be hard to get it right, and the same is true of “figure it out yourself” puzzle mechanics. While there were a few puzzles I managed to get through via pure trial and error without ever really understanding what I was doing, around the one hour mark (which I guesstimate to be able half the total game), I came across a series of puzzles that I did not really understand nor could I brute force my way through, ending my time with the game.
It’s too bad, because everything around all the unnecessary obtuseness of it all is pretty neat. The whole visual aesthestic is lovely, the soundtrack was working for me, and the puzzles with obvious objectives were, by and large, satisfying to solve. The whole first section of the game has you restoring an android, and while playing through this part, I expected I would complete the game. Sure, there was a puzzle or two not to my taste, and sure, each type of puzzle probably could have had one or two less stages, but it was all holding together for me.
Once I left the lab, however, the puzzle types started to get more and more annoying to complete. I decided I was done a significant way through the puzzle series where you need to reset the satellites. There seemed to be a twitch reaction component to these ones – you would need to hit at just the right spot at just the right time – but I cannot say for sure as all the ones I did mange to complete were by pure luck.
After exiting the game in frustration, I decided to peruse some reviews. One of them mentioned an option to turn on text hints for puzzles, and sure enough, the option is there. Unfortunately, I had reached a point where even a hint system wasn’t going to help me – I did have the gist of it, I just couldn’t do what the game wanted me to. Without being able to go forward (and unwilling to start over at the beginning), I am unsure how clear the hints are across the board – I did manage to get through all the previous puzzle types without them, and still could not mange to progress with them turned on.
Interestingly, the game has had multiple permanent price reductions since release; originally, the asking price on this one was $9.99. After about a month, it dropped to $4.99, and finally, about four months after that, settled down to its current $2.99 purchase price. While it’s entirely possible that the game would have been more successful had it started at a more appropriate price point, I don’t think it’s short play time, repetitive puzzles, and decision to have hints off by default did it any favors either.
SteamDB estimates that Outsider: After Life has sold between 300 and 900 copies on Steam. Most reviewers viewed it more positively than I did, and as it’s available on mobile devices at a lower base price, it’s possible it’s seen great success in those markets. It is ranked 5118 out of 10,967 games released in 2021.