A [Spoiler-Free!] Review of Lifeline
By Ainslee Flowers
After Choose Your Own Adventure books first rose to popularity in the 1980s, the series set off a spark of interest in interactive fiction among consumers everywhere. This led to the growth of the text adventure game genre, which came to include titles such as Colossal Cave Adventure, Adventureland, and Zork. Years later, interactive fiction remains popular, though now it is mostly supported by cinematic-quality graphics and fully voiced characters. Text adventures such as Lifeline, however, still seem to find an audience.
Originally released by Three Minute Games on iOS and Android in 2015, Lifeline is essentially an astronaut texting simulator. The game follows the story of Taylor, an astronaut of unspecified gender aboard the starship Varia, and the lone survivor of their expedition after the ship’s crash on an unknown planet. You, the player, are the only person Taylor has been able to contact, and as their only means of support, you become Taylor’s lifeline.
Taylor speaks to you through text-like notifications, and when prompted you will be able to select one of two options in response. The game also runs on real time, so if you advise Taylor to scout the nearby wreckage of their ship, you’ll have to wait an hour or two while they do so. The way the game uses the everyday concept of receiving and replying to others through mobile devices is clever. On occasion, Taylor may even ask you to Google something for them before making a decision, giving the game a slight meta-fictional element.
Your goal in the game, quite obviously, is to help ensure Taylor’s survival. The writing is wonderful; Taylor has a distinct and relatable personality that the player can easily form an emotional connection with, causing you to genuinely want to help them — not just because you have to. Upon making the wrong choice, the player can lead Taylor straight to their death. Having experienced this more than once, I can assure you that it doesn’t feel good. As you progress through the story, you begin to care about Taylor and want to see them escape the tragic fate of death on this unknown world. Unfortunately, this also means that you can end up feeling pretty guilty for making a bad decision and sending Taylor to their doom.
All is not lost, however, as restarting the game is a button press away. An additional bit of good news is the existence of the Fast Mode feature, allowing you to skip those wait times while Taylor is out exploring or sleeping. This makes it a bit more bearable to replay, especially on sections of the story you’ve already experienced multiple times. Among other features, there is also a Rewind Story option. This enables the player to go back and alter a previous choice that may have led to an undesirable end for our friendly astronaut, or simply to explore a different area and investigate another part of the story.
Overall, Lifeline was a very enjoyable game with an engaging story and clever use of its platform, and I would definitely recommend giving it a try. Lifeline is currently available on iOS and Android for $1.99.