Lifeline: Pocket Martian

Lifeline

Lifeline is a text-based adventure game developed by Three Minute Games for IOS and Android. When a stranded astronaut signals for help after crash landing on a distant moon, you the player must communicate with them via your mobile phone and make decisions that could either help or hinder their ongoing survival. It was released April 16th, 2015

[incoming communication]

 I am worried about Taylor.

 Our last communication was hours ago and still no word. I’ve been sat on a toilet nursing two dead legs and a heavy heart for the best part of thirty minutes. I wiped so long ago that my flush has settled and the water is fit to drink again.

 I hope Taylor finds water.

 I could just get up, wash my hands and leave but here I am; a nauseous well of anxiety now swelling in the pit of my stomach and with every moment that passes I can’t help but grow more concerned for the one person in the universe who truly needs me.

 There is a banging on the toilet door now. I’ve outstayed my welcome. I flush again as a courtesy and push myself up from the toilet seat. My feet are like soft bags of flour and my legs explode with an overwhelming  clout of pins and needles. I buckle and reach out for the sink but my phone, my communicator prevents me from finding support. I hit the floor, my legs caught in the snake-pit of my fallen trousers.

 I call out for Taylor, blurry eyed and bleeding from the head. The door swings open and I let slip a pathetic little fart. Nerves. My manager looks down at me with a pained disposition. Slowly she reaches down for my phone and takes it into her shaking hands. She looks back to me; a contorted nightmare of bare-bottomed shame.

 “Taylor has woken up with a strange taste in his mouth.” She says.

 “I can taste blood.” I retort.

Welcome to Lifeline.

[Taylor is busy]

 Lifeline is wonderfully compelling IOS game that hooks you immediately with its incredible writing and immersive game design. At first glance it is a simple text adventure that has you guide a lone astronaut to safety from the comfort of your own home (or work toilet). However what stands out here is the authenticity of the main character you are interacting with, Taylor.

 Taylor is to the player whatever they wish Taylor to be. I don’t mean like a juggler or whatever but instead Taylor has been written with no stated sex or ethnicity. A brief look through Reddit forums shows what kind of an impact such a minor addition can have for the player when you consider that the life in your hands is one left  for you to personally identify with. For me Taylor was a privileged white male.

 The personality that drives the narrative is excellently delivered through the games ‘real time’ mechanic that sees Taylor respond as if you were messaging one of those friends you might have. If he comes across a door that needs smashing down then he will message the player and then become busy for several minutes while he tackles his obstacle. It is a brilliant feature that allows for you to go about your day and check in every so often to catch up on the story. The game even allows you to make decisions via your lock screen which means that those of us in retail can have a quick input behind the till without rousing any suspicion. At that point it stops becoming a story and does a lot to really immerse you in this two-way interstellar communication.

  Every so often you are presented with a choice of two options that can have a lasting effect on Taylor’s journey. Every important decision is swayed by you the player which can lead to several endings and even more deaths. What stood out to me was Taylor’s cowardly reluctance or ethical stance on certain decisions you make. This makes him more believable and though eventually complying after countless insistence, there is more than an ounce of personality there to flesh him out.

 Taylor cracks jokes and tells stories, makes comments and references. He genuinely made me laugh at times and the more he opened up, the more I wished only the best for him. His personality is quirky enough to be endearing but not grating enough to turn you off and though reluctant to take risks, he makes the most of the worst few days of his life. Your consistent pressure to make certain decisions can make or break him and perhaps effect his approach later on. When tragedy strikes or even when the  mysteries begin to unfold in later points in the game, Taylor sells his fear and curiosity effectively and expands the spectrum of his personality so believably that it may warrant your own dread, sympathy or compassion as his environment begins to shape him.

 Taylor is not a two dimensional cut out you thoughtlessly guide through empty decisions. He is everything you expect from somebody stranded on a rock with only a slither of hope and you the player to call on. He is thankful for the company and depending on you treat him, thankful for you.

 The longer I played, the more I thought about Taylor and the impact my decisions would have on him. I would make a decision and allow for Taylor to carry it out which of course sends his status to busy. It left me anxious at times as I waited for his next communications, unsure as to whether or not I had made a decision that would have a negative impact on his journey.

 The writing here is exceptional and though spread across three days, the story weaves and branches seamlessly but will always have you reach the same destination. This is evident on multiple playthroughs but the strength in writing like this is walking a linear path with the illusion of freedom to absorb you.

 You are pulled along at a believable pace and as I said, it does a fantastic job of immersing you in the story. If you happen to be busy at the time of a communication, it will sit and wait until you are ready to respond which in practical terms is a good thing but I can’t help thinking how much more urgency the game would deliver if it tackled every aspect of the story in real time. It would be a frustrating three days for sure but it would make for a one off immersive experience unlike any other. I don’t even think that is a criticism per say but it will have to do since I am struggling to find fault with this game. It is a pocket sized adventure that for me personally, is perfectly constructed and executed.

I will not spoil the story for you since you can grab Lifeline from the app-store for less than a quid and get through it in a few days. It does not demand your attention like regular games but you will find yourself pulled a little further into the narrative than you first anticipated. I will say that the story is a perfect blend of survival, isolation and fear. As the mystery begins to unravel, the pacing picks up nicely and really ramps up the tension. The ending I ultimately received drew the game to an extremely satisfying conclusion and did well to save the more intense science fiction elements to serve as a narrative crescendo the game was inevitably building to.

 Casual as they come, Lifeline is an experience you can take with you, emotional baggage and everything. You do not have to be a gamer to appreciate this gem, nor do you have to be a die-hard science fiction fan. In fact, much like my last review of This War of Mine: The Little Ones, all it takes to participate in these games is a human heart and a finger of curiosity. Dare yourself to experience storytelling through a medium that constantly strives to reinvent the wheel of personal immersion.

 Bring Taylor home.

[connection lost]

Juice Box Rating – 125ml

About the Author

Squeezing out every last drop of madness and exporting it in recyclable oblong boxes, because when life gives you lemons, be grateful you got anything at all. And make juice. Then box it.

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