I played Lifeline once over the course of 3 days and I’m all set. I’m assuming I got the best possible ending since my cadet was rescued and we nuked the planet from orbit — “it was the only way to be sure” — and because of that, I don’t feel the need to go back.
Lifeline is a text adventure that should re-coin the term “text adventure” since it literally texts you — sometimes just to say ‘hi.’ Like other text adventures though, you’re given choices to direct the character’s actions and, presumably, it impacts how the story changes. Although, it’s hard to gauge how much my preference of “chili with beans” affects the story.
Pacing like Hatchet
Anyone else have to read Hatchet by Gary Paulsen in the… 5th grade? The pacing to Lifeline is a lot like that. The first 3-4 days (in Hatchet), features our protagonist sleeping, recovering, moaning from the plane crash. His greatest challenge is warding off mosquitoes. Once he’s up and running though, he scavenges for food, builds fire, finds a shelter and whatnot — it becomes much more involved. Lifeline is a lot like that.
On day 1, Taylor (that’s the Cadet) fills me in on the mission, the crash, and his role — sciencey intern is the gist. As with any survival story, the first goal is food and shelter. Once those are taken care of, Taylor sleeps and day 1 ends. Short and sweet.
Day 2, features a bit more exploration and a sets up more of the story. You have a whole day with Taylor, so he’ll text you every few hours. Even in the night though, when he’s supposed to be sleeping, he’ll text you with nightmares or sounds of creepy crawlies. Still, it’s spaced out well (always assume puns are intentional).
Day 3 marks the jump from 0 to 60. Once you hit the mountain peak, Taylor texts you every 5 minutes until the game ends.
“Pep Talk” the Game
Cadet Taylor is very definition of mild-mannered — especially all things considered — but presumably that’s because he has contact with you (the player).
Taylor has all the skill an average person would. He’s not great with computers, but could mod one to play games; he can’t make a coconut phone, but he can build a compass; and, most telling, he has no self-confidence, making you his life coach (i.e. “Pep Talk” the game).
I am convinced that that’s the point of you, the player. If Taylor were actually reaching out to another human being, they’d report it to NASA and say we have contact, but Taylor never even asks who you are because you are him. You’re Jiminy Cricket; You’re his conscience helping him to make the right choices. And all the proof you need is the fact that his conscience, telling him what to do when he’s second-guessing himself, is the inverse of the villain — a creature that takes control of your brain and makes decisions perforce.
It’s not long into the game before you realize that, to make the right decisions, you just need to give the kid a boost.
In many ways, your relationship with Taylor is akin to a marriage. If you’re always sarcastic with Taylor, if you mock him, if you stop to say “I told you so,” then of course when it matters, he’s going to shut down and quit. Frequently, he’ll stop and say “Oh my God–” and you have the option to say, “What do you see?” or “Are you okay?” and it’s pretty evident what the right choice is — if you’re not a sociopath.
Of course, towards the end, it’s hard to tell if you’re winning or losing since Taylor’s vocabulary is made up of “I can’t!” He’s like the little engine storybook. I can’t get past these guys. I can’t fix the computer. I can’t run that far. I can’t, I can’t, I can’t. He wanes on your patience, to a point where it’s genuinely tempting to let him give up… especially since he’s been texting you nonstop and you have to keep telling him it’s gonna be okay.
In the end though, it is a testament of your own character. If someone whines ad naseum, are you going to let them quit, call them a baby, or help them succeed? Spoiler: If you let him reach the finish line, one of the rescue guys punches him in the face for good measure, so you get a little satisfaction there.
Biggest Gripe? Taylor
I’m sure most people didn’t have this problem and looking back, I don’t think it’s 3 Minute Games or Dave Justus’ fault, but the marketing betrayed my expectations. Lifeline has always been an app on my radar, but what sold me on it was not the discounted price (currently $0.99 in the app store), but the trailer for the movie, The Martian (based on the book by Andy Weir — lots of book references in this review, huh?).
The idea of communicating with an astronaut on a stranded planet sold me. And the trailer for Lifeline made it look like you were communicating with a by-the-book operative. Granted, that type of character probably wouldn’t have had as much personality as Taylor — and certainly wouldn’t interest everybody — but it’s what I was expecting; it’s actually what I wanted. But Taylor is more like a high school kid whose high marks — and enrollment in some “NASA giveaway sweepstakes” — got him aboard the Varia.
Overall though, great concept, solid story, and worth the experience.
PS. I originally thought that I was the janitor at NASA and everyone had left for the day so he contacts me because I’m literally the only one in the office.
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