Lifeline is, well, an interesting game. Game is used lightly, here. Any gameplay presented is literally boiled down to two choices. At any given time. That’s it. The gameplay here is not the reason to keep with Lifeline. Lifeline is more accurately described as an interactive, real time choose your own adventure novel. But it’s one of the best experiences I’ve had so far this year.
Booting up Lifeline, you are greeted from an IM client style message from a deserted astronaut named Taylor, who has crashed landed on a strange foreign moon. For what it’s worth, he’s still alive, he can breath the air, but other than this he’s a little royal fucked. This is where you’re left; you are the sole person who has “responded to his distress calls” and he’s relying on you to help him navigate through his deserted-ness. This is the core of Lifeline, now. Taylor sends you many messages, and then you get a choice of two dialogue options. Either some way to interact with his character, and perhaps make a joke, or he’s often incredibly interested in your opinion as to what he should do.
I say “interested in your opinion” instead of, “making choices for him” because this is the point where it’s more interactive literature instead of a game. He may ask your opinion on what to do, but he is a person, with his own thoughts and opinions about what his course of action should be. He may hear a bump in the night, and will ask you, “Hey should I go check it out? Or just roll back over and go to sleep?” If you tell him to go look into it, he’ll say, “No! I don’t really feel like doing that. I could die.” This is one of the pillars that is the crux of why this game is so interesting to me.
Lifeline, because it is trying to convey itself as more of a book and less of a game in certain aspects, the writing becomes much more alive and feels much more human than any of the visual novels I’ve played. There are fantastic moments where Taylor is frantically sending you messages, trying to describe what’s happening in front of him to you, and it feels so real. You panic as much as he panics. For the past week it has been a real rollercoaster of survival trying to keep Taylor alive, and determining the best courses of action to be taken.
It’s an interesting story, because I’m not sure it has a real end. I’m not sure the end result is going to be that Taylor makes it home. It’s a sad reality to crash land on a foreign moon, with no real supplies. It’s all quite hopeless, realistically. And that’s part of the journey you take with Taylor. You’re his co-captain, his moral support, and his only friend in that moment.
The other thing that real has kept driving me forward in this game is the real-time aspects of it. It takes place in “real time”, often the things that Taylor does during his day take time. Climbing through a crater, finding supplies, fashioning objects, all of these things can take hours of yours and his time. So he’ll start doing something, and it can be anywhere from five minutes, to four hours before he sends a message back. It’s these moments that make him feel a lot more real than he has any right to be considering he’s a fictional character in an interactive piece of literature.
There are mistakes that you can make in giving Taylor suggestions over the course of the game. He can die. This hasn’t happened to me, yet. Somehow I’ve managed to keep him alive for this past week. When he dies, you gain access to a mode of the game where you can rewind back to decisions, and turn off the real time parts of the game. This is where it really becomes the iOS game ‘Lifeline’. Now you’re playing against the decisions that lead to his death. I’m not sure the game succeeds here. I’m not sure this is what the game should do.
Lifeline, once Taylor dies, I think it loses all of the magic of itself. For the game to retain its magic, it’s need to be that Taylor just dies, and you would be forced to move on, knowing you killed him. When Taylor dies, his character dies to me. And instead of him feeling like a person, an me wanting to interact with him like a person, he becomes just a means to an end. A means to figure out the mystery that is on that moon. Taylor either needs to die, or you need to successfully get him home on the first try. No part of the game is more important that the other, however they all need to be there in order for that experience to be had. With one part removed, I.E., when you kill Taylor and you realize that he can rewind back to the decision that killed him, it really kills the magic for me. That’s a huge shame. Lifeline is an amazing experience.
My recommendation? Play Lifeline. Play as long as you can. Be careful, try to keep Taylor alive. It’ll hopefully be as amazing for you as it was for me. But if he dies? Uninstall the app, and never look back. You’ve killed him. As harsh as it is, just move on and find something else to play.
Update: I have just “finished” my play through as of Wednesday. The way it finished for itself for me was a little underwhelming. Maybe had I made different choices for Taylor, it would have ended differently. Maybe I got the “bad ending.” Or maybe I didn’t even make it to the end at all. But one thing’s for sure; I think most people should play Lifeline, and I hope you enjoy it as much as I did.