Standing out can be an incredibly tough task for mobile games. As digital distribution grows to new heights each day, so does the sheer volume of apps that are made available. Many mobile marketplaces remain over saturated with titles that copy one another with limited discovery options available. Enter Lifeline… a text based choose your own adventure sci-fi game. From the start, Lifeline… had my attention. I was playing it minutes after I realized what it was, and thought it was designed in a way that was simply too ingenious to pass up.
Lifeline’s rise to app store prominence is largely in thanks to it’s launch day Apple Watch counterpart. I have good reason to believe Lifeline… would be just as engaging (if not even more so) on the Apple Watch. However, seeing as I do not own an Apple Watch, my review will consist solely of my experience playing on an iPhone. (UPDATE: Lifeline... is now available on Android via the Google Play store and the Amazon app store. We've gone hands on and are pleased to report it runs smoothly on multiple devices. It's not an incredibly resource intensive game, so it's safe to assume that it should perform consistently on most smartphones and/or tablets.)
So, what’s so special about Lifeline? Well, have you ever received a text from a wrong number? Imagine that message came from someone who needed your help. Now put that stranger who needs your help in space, alone, and amidst the wreckage of their ship on a foreign planet. As the sole recipient of these transmissions you are tasked with guiding their every move across the dangerous territory through a series of interactive notifications. That messenger’s name is Taylor, and as the title suggests, you are their key to survival.
Taylor is a science student, and not a full blown astronaut as the game’s icon might imply. Taylor’s gender is never actually specified, leaving it up to your imagination to assign a specific sex to the gender neutral protagonist. I’m not sure if Taylor was designed to appeal to a younger audience, but I never really grew to like Taylor. In fact, I found it difficult to care about Taylor’s fate at all sometimes. The divide between Taylor and myself was largely due to the character’s general disposition and relentless snarky responses. The player-character interaction never became the deeply intimate relationship I had hoped for. Helping Taylor felt like telling an annoying teenager to do their chores in outer space. One that rifles off groan-worthy dad jokes instead of creating a tense mood or showing a serious sense of fear. Being in charge of a person’s destiny is important, so I tried to shrug off my distaste for Taylor and channel my altruistic instincts in order to keep things moving.
Unlike my feelings for Taylor, I really did enjoy the sci-fi elements of Lifeline. Without approaching any spoiler territory I will say the climactic events that transpire during Lifeline were mostly well done and fun to explore. The diverging paths weren’t quite as varied as you may initially think, since one choice can inevitably lead back to the other, but they did provide some replay value for those willing to retread Lifeline’s paces. My main gripe with the story was two small references from modern day that managed to squeak into the game. If I am to believe that a student scientist is out on an exploration of a distant planet, then I would assume we are far enough into the future that the Pixar movie, Ratatouille, should not be a part of our discussion. Each time sucked me out of Taylor’s universe, and while some may see that as a nitpick, I thought it broke the “space adventure” experience.
The part of Lifeline… I grew to appreciate the most was it’s pacing. Taylor will ask you what’s next and you tell him/her A or B, but those tasks are acted out in real time. If Taylor must rest or travel far you will not hear back from he/she until it is done. Meaning there are stretches of hours were you are left wondering what happened to Taylor. Once you get through the game, you can speed this process up, but I preferred to wait and let the suspense build. Not only did it seem like a clever plot device, but it builds Lifeline... into a story that requires a few days to be completed.
It makes me very happy to see a game like Lifeline… sitting atop the charts of the App Store. Shortcomings aside, I thought Lifeline… was a much needed breath of fresh air. I would’ve enjoyed a slightly darker, humorless affair, but Lifeline… still satisfied the science fiction fan in me. For those reasons, Lifeline… is a Milds Davis on the Game Awry Review Scale, but one that I would love to see spawn future iterations and stories. I’d comfortably recommend Lifeline… to a lot of people, whether you’re into sci-fi, or just think the idea of texting a lost spaceman might tickle your fancy. - Brian Garthoff