Lifeline

A new take on a classic format. “Choose your own adventure”-books are back and they’re better than ever.

I don’t just play HOPA games. Truly, I do play more types of games than that. There’s… uh… and… oh… ah… oh, yeah, I’ve been playing “Yoshi’s Woolly World” and I heartily recommend it.

Joking aside, I do play other games as well but I’ve never really found a good way to talk about them. After all, if it takes me 2000+ words just to talk about a game that takes me less than four hours to play, how many words would it take me to talk sufficiently about a game like “Yoshi’s Woolly World”, a game that I’ve been playing for at least three times as long and still not completed?

And it’s not very difficult to find reviews of “Yoshi’s Woolly World” either so any review of mine would just be another drop in the ocean. Whereas HOPA, in my opinion, don’t really get the public lashing they sometimes deserve.

But every now and again I find something that perhaps doesn’t fall into the scope of my normal repertoire. Such is the case today when I want to talk to you about “Lifeline”.

Lifeline TitleLifeline
(3 Minute Games, 2015)

One day, just like any other, I was sitting around doing nothing really spectacular on my phone when I suddenly got a message out of nowhere:
“Hello? Is┬áthis thing working? Can anyone read me?”
Without knowing it, I had just become responsible for the life of an astronaut who crashed on a moon very far away. Knowing nothing but what the astronaut told me, I had to make several life and death choices in hopes of guiding astronaut Taylor home.

“Lifeline” is a choose your own adventure style story. Today they’re called “interactive fiction” but the concept dates back to the early 1900s though the idea itself dates back even further than that. But it was during the seventies that the format really gained ground and became hugely popular. For the uninitiated, the idea is simple: you read a story like normal but every so often you’re asked to make choices. Like whether the hero goes to the left or the the right or whether s/he kills or spares the thief he defeated on the road.

Back in the day this was simply presented as “turn to page -insert number here- if you choose this option”. Today, the genre, or format, is still alive and well on the digital platforms, such as Android or iOS. Though the “turn to page” has been replaced simply with making a choice before the next set of text is displayed. Although some take it a bit further, introducing health points and skills and combat, for the most part they’re still pretty much the same.

“Lifeline” plays out much the same. Lots of text and narrative followed by a choice followed by more text and narrative. The strength of any such product relies heavily on the writing and I’m glad to say the writing is pretty good. I have some issues, the broad strokes of the story weren’t that hard to predict if you’re into sci-fi but the build up and suspense is very real and expertly crafted. Although I initially treated it like a game of percentages and chance, eventually I succumbed and started getting emotionally involved.

And I attribute this change of heart entirely to “Lifeline’s” unique twist: everything in the story takes place in real time. Or at least a very convincing facsimile of it. When Taylor has to do something, the creators estimated what it would take to do such a thing in real life and then that’s how long you get to wait until the next message from the moon-wrecked astronaut. When he or she goes to sleep, it’s eight hours until you hear from Taylor again.

This is actually a pretty ingenious design as it ties the story into your own life. All of a sudden it’s not something that can be treated as a game on fifteen minute breaks. Taylor has her or his own life and things take time. One of the major problems with classic choose your own adventures was that unless you were disciplined, it was easy enough to simply turn to the indicated page and read what happened. If you weren’t pleased with the outcome, simply turn back to where you were and pick the choice.

Granted, “Lifeline” does eventually give in and let you fast forward through actions or rewind if things went entirely south but I never used the fast forward and I only rewound if I ended up dead. Though well written, I had no interest in sitting through the same text over and over again until I guessed correctly. But that’s just an inherent issue with the format itself, not this game in particular. It’s difficult to circumnavigate.

Eventually the game also attempts to explain why this is even a possibility, why Taylor from the future can speak to me back on Earth in 2015. It reaches a bit but it never beats you over the head with it, I simply saw what they were doing and wished they had explain it a bit sooner as that would’ve helped somewhat with my immersion. Others might disagree, though, but that’s my take on it.

My only other complaint is that the ending is pretty much always the same. Sort of. It depends on what you consider an ending, I guess. But the absolute ending always ends in the same place and roughly the same things take place. And if you want to get out alive, chances are you’ll be forced to rewind a lot because some of the last choices appear to be pretty much a 50/50 crap shoot if you took the right one.

However, complaints aside, the game really is worth to try for the low asking price. It took me about three days to complete the first time, complete with one death and a couple of rewinds at the end. But the active time playing is much less though the finale probably took me anywhere between half an hour to an hour to complete.

I’ve also made the choice to not replay it just to try different outcomes as I’m pleased with what I got, both emotionally and from a value standpoint. Further tampering from my end would just be testing the system which would lower my opinion of it.

As it stands, however, it’s a unique take on a classic format and I greatly enjoyed it. The game invites you for a roller coaster ride of emotions and excitement but how much enjoy it is entirely up to you, I think.


The game was played on tablet running Android and worked without issues. For more information about the game, visit 3 Minute Games here.

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