Welcome to Susan Arendt's latest column on Pocket Gamer. In 2018 we've recruited the best writers and most experienced gamers in the industry and asked them to inspire us. Today Susan takes a look at Lifeline..., and finds that despite plenty of sequels, the original is still the king...
Normally, a game has two states of being: on or off. Its world exists while you're playing it, then poofs into nothingness, everything within it stopped in its tracks as it patiently awaits your return.
But there are some games that play on without you, as crops grow or NPCs go about their daily lives, or, in the case of Lifeline..., as a terrified young spaceman treks across a grim landscape, hoping to find a way home.
By now, there are plenty of entries in the Lifeline... series of games, as well as other games that follow the same basic gameplay pattern, but I still feel like the original adventure with Taylor does it the best.
Lifeline... makes the most of the fact that your phone is intended primarily as a means of communication; Taylor is the sole survivor of an interstellar crash, and he's reaching out for help. As luck would have it, his signal has connected with your phone and it's up to you to help the poor lad out by cheering him on (or not, you monster) and giving him periodic advice about what he should do next.
Lifeline... is a choose-your-own-adventure-style game - nothing new about that - but what makes it feel so fresh and clever is that you can't play it all at once. Indeed, it doesn't really feel like you're playing at all, but instead responding to a friend who's having a particularly bad day.
Taylor's messages come to you in bursts as he relays information about his surroundings or frets about his fate. Once you help him decide on a particular course of action, he'll fall silent as he sets about doing it. Hours will pass without you hearing a peep. Is he dead? Did he fall off that cliff he was describing? Maybe sleeping so close to something radioactive wasn't a great idea, after all.
The pauses are a brilliant way of keeping you engaged in the story instead of tuning out and jumping straight to the choices at hand. You tackle one situation at a time, weighing the pros and cons with Taylor before making your final decision. And then you wait, and go about your day, and likely forget you were even playing Lifeline... until a new message pops up from Taylor to reveal the next step in the adventure.
Lifeline...'s experience is a marvelous way to break up your day without being overly demanding of your time or your battery life. Five minutes here, ten there - a quick departure for your imagination before Taylor is back into the fray and you're back to your commute or cubicle or cardio workout. Don't tell your friends this, but it's also a nice break from that group text you got added to that has 70 people in it, half of whom are talking about The Bachelor.
If space drama isn't your jam, Lifeline 2 is about a young spellcaster, Lifeline: Whiteout's unlucky protagonist is stuck in the snow, Lifeline: Flatline has more of a straight horror vibe, and Lifeline: Crisis Line is a crime drama. Each one has several different endings to explore (you can turn off the turn delays once you've completed the game once), so reach out and help someone.
Or feed them to the the aliens, whatever. Just know that I judge you if that's the way you decide to go.Enjoyed that? Read more of Susan Arendt's columns on Pocket Gamer for more thoughts on great games. If you're looking for more columns, then check out Harry Slater and Jon Jordan, who are always on-hand with sharp, tasty opinions too.