Wednesday, 10 February 2016

Lifeline (2015) Game Review - NO SPOILERS!

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Lifeline, out of any I've played, seems to be the single most talked about mobile game. Not just in the retrospective way of, "that game was great", in the currently-playing-and-highly-addicted kind of way. The type of conversations that are multi-layered; not only do you try and find out where your friends are up to, but how they got there, how the options differ from yours, what they've discovered that you haven't, and even weird things like trying to judge who's been more reckless or sensible. Like the main player is a mutual friend, you'll find yourself asking, "How’s Taylor doing?" and without question receiving a reply like, “Oh, currently eating rat food.” And that’s cool, that’s fine. Most people I knew were embroiled in a daily struggle of trying to not let Taylor die in weird, horrific ways. And, more importantly, trying to decide whether Taylor is male or female. I was categorically on the side of Taylor being a female and struggle to understand how anyone can think she’s female, just based on how her dialogue is composed. The trend seems to be the player projects their gender onto Taylor which actually is quite a cool perk. I enjoyed playing as a bad ass female astronaut, I connected better to her, but I’m sure men prefer imagining themselves playing as a Matt Damon male survivalist. Which actually brings me onto my next point...

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The whole beginning part of the app, the exposition and the tentative few steps into the beginning of the story, seems like it was almost directly lifted from The Martian, Andy Weir’s 2011 novel about an astronaut stuck alone on Mars and having to survive long enough to be rescued. I know there will obviously be similarities because the circumstances are pretty much the same, but it just seemed so similar it was kind of distracting. Like an interactive fanfic. Then the feel of Lifeline switches from somewhat realistic to hardcore sci fi with aliens and green goo and shit just blows up. 

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Lifeline’s interface is simple yet effective because it is primarily text based. The only image is the initial loading screen. It works, though, because it feels like an actual communication device, with the [Taylor is busy] a feature that lets you know when to let go for a while and find something else to do. Playtime of the app varies from person to person, not due to skill, it’s more down to sheer luck, but this is actually one of its biggest merits. You choose Taylor’s path (for the most part) and as she follows through with your choices, you have to wait in almost real-time for her to complete the task. If she goes to sleep you’re forced to wait hours until you get your next reply which is sent in notification form to whatever device you’re playing on. You almost forget about Taylor and then *ping* she’s waiting for you to make the next life changing decision that comes her way. It’s sometimes annoying having to wait because with most games there’s an immediacy to it that means you can sit for hours playing, but with this the sporadic replies span days, or weeks if you’re really unlucky. It has the effect of making Taylor feel like a real person stuck on a real planet and you’re the only one who can help. It’s engaging.

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I’ve played through probably like, 1.5 times. I got halfway through, died, replayed and miraculously made it to the end of the game without dying again. I can imagine that right at the end (no spoilers) when stakes are high and you’re so close to the finish line, dying would be a major inconvenience. The ending is where the speed of the game suddenly goes from gear one to five; everything happens at breakneck speed and there’s barely time to process what the hell is going on and what the best path is to saving Taylor’s life. But I would say that’s the issue, that there’s no skill involved in the decision making you do. There are two options and you can either choose the right one or the wrong one and sometimes it’s not necessarily obvious which the stupid decision is. There’s one option where skill COULD be involved, where you’re given the option to Google the answer to a question Taylor has about her survival, but even then it’s still entirely luck based which the right option would be. I wish they’d had more options like this where intelligence, skill, thought and logic all played a part at certain times. Where there would be no possible way Taylor could progress without the particular knowledge I had that she did not being stuck on a planet without wifi or phone signal. 

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I managed to get this as part of Apple's app of the week so it was free, but I feel it's usual price of under £1 (generally, but I think it varies) is very fair. The choices are mostly, like 80%, well written. Never too similar, sometimes a moral dilemma, but sometimes the two options you are faced with are SO BANAL. Like Taylor will say, “No way! Oh god oh god oh god” and instead  of being able to wait a minute to hear what she has to say you literally have to choose “What is it?” or “Take a minute” like why! No, bitch, don’t take a minute! I want answers now but I’m totally pretending to be patient and kind when really you just need to tell me what is up. Especially near the end this is extremely prevalent and when there are barely any gaps and your main job is to ask, “Tell me!” it gets a bit grating. Even Taylor, a qualified astronaut who in reality would be approximately a billion times smarter than the average player, gives no strong reason as to why she would listen to your advice so willingly. There are times she rebels and that’s frustrating but quite amusing at the same time. There’s a mixed bag in terms of the quality of the writing, but luckily for the player it is generally on the excellent and conversational side. 


Overall this game is an enjoyable, involving ride that lasts days and feels like you’re really a part of mission control helping to save someone’s life. The interface is the most simple I’ve seen but it’s effective and would be especially fun with a smart watch for the constant updates. It is an easy game to grasp, but at times the overly simplistic choices can be frustrating or dull. If you enjoyed this app, well rejoice! There is now a part two to eat up a few more days of your life.

8.5/10