Ever want to play a game without your hands? The only ways to accomplish this would be either with brain waves or your voice, unless you are one of those people who can play games with the controller at your feet. Lifeline starts the process of moving towards playing games without the controller as it implements the USB headset as an integral part of the game.
Lifeline stars out during the Inaugural Christmas Party of a space station hotel, where you are there with your girlfriend/nurse/Power Ranger. Suddenly, an explosion rocks the reception, and everyone runs away in a panic. Everything turns black. Groggily you wake up in front of a computer terminal, hearing a voice. You look at your monitor and see Rio, a waitress/She Spy from the hotel. You realize that you are in the hotel’s control room and let Rio out of the futuristic jail cell she is trapped in. From there, you team with Rio on an adventure to save the space station and any survivors.
The graphics are a combination of 2D backdrops with 3D objects and characters. Although this usually means that the 3D characters stick out like a sore thumb, the backdrops blend well with the characters and objects most of the time.
Most of the items are distinguishable enough for Rio to recognize. Once they have been recognized, they will have a cursor icon over them that can be used to identify them. This is helpful in that it tells you what word the game is expecting when you want to interact with an object. Sometimes the graphics do look a bit muddied and blurry.
Rio’s character model is well done, and her animation is realistic. The way she runs is much better than the exaggerated movements in Enter the Matrix. She will nod her head to indicate that she has acknowledged an object. When she moves to pick something up, she will actually move her hand and arm to pick it up. The other human characters are similarly done.
The aliens that Rio fights throughout the game didn’t fare as well. They all have low polygon counts and don’t move fluidly. One looks like a slug, another looks like a larger slug with a huge mouth and teeth, and another looks like a disembodied hand running on its fingers like Thing from The Addams Family.
Lifeline gets major kudos for the voice acting. Rio is voiced by Kristen Miller, who is most well-known for her role on the TV show She Spies. While Miller does a good job, Rio doesn’t seem to express much emotion through her voice. Everything seems a bit monotone. Even when Rio is running away from a monster in a certain sequence, her voice doesn’t sound particularly scared.
The supporting cast performs well. Erin Cahill is the voice behind Naomi, your girlfriend. Cahill has previously voiced the nurse in Whiplash, as well as played a Power Ranger. The head of the station’s research center is voiced by John Kapelos, who has had a long TV and movie career. Andrew Chaikin, who has exclusively done voice work, voices a researcher in the lab. The actor who voices the space hotel owner just oozes with the sound of an arrogant slimeball, but he is unfortunately uncredited in the game.
While there are a few moments of music in the game, they are extremely sparse. While this might add to the realism of being in the control room of a space station, it makes the game feel rather empty.
The sound effects all have a futuristic feel to them. When opening a door or activating a control panel, it sounds like something like you would expect from any sci-fi game or TV program. However, there isn’t much variety through the game.
The controller is actually used in Lifeline. Square will confirm selections, Triangle displays analysis points, X will cancel actions, L1 will display the map of the current area, R1 will display your inventory, and R2 will display a keyword list.
The most important button on the controller is the circle key. This is the button used to communicate with Rio. The key interface used is similar to the way a CB radio works. To say something to Rio, press down the circle button, talk, and then release the button.
Because this game relies so heavily on the voice communication, the game will only be as good or bad as how good or bad as the voice recognition system. The voice recognition is impressive, when it works. Unfortunately, it gets incredibly frustrating when it doesn’t work, which is too often. Sometimes an item will need to be looked at and interacted with. However, getting Rio to actually examine the object might be difficult. One instance, I was trying to get Rio to open a box on a dresser. Well, it was a box, but it wouldn’t recognize the item as a box. Not until the phrase “cigar case” was used would Rio do anything with it. Even trying to describe the item, which sometimes works to get identification of an object, didn’t work this time. Sometimes it would even cause Rio to run away from the dresser, so you then have to tell Rio to stop, go back to the dresser, and then try to figure out what the object on the desk is.
The gameplay is very unique since you don’t directly control a character. It does feel as if you are watching Rio through cameras, since the cameras will follow Rio around instead of using a static view like Resident Evil.
However, once you get past the fact that you are controlling a character through your voice instead of using the controller, the game becomes little more than a typical adventure game. Rio moves around searching for clues, opening lockers and safes, and opening doors after you have unlocked them. As the “operator,” you will be able to open hatch doors for Rio to explore other sections of the ship, while other doors will require keys.
When she walks, she walks slowly, so you have to tell her to run to get around the station in a decent amount of time. If the station was in such a crisis, you would think Rio would have a little more spring to her step.
Most of the puzzles in the games do make sense once you solve them. Some even use the headset for solving the problem. However, the game is a bit on the easy side at times, since important items will have a sparkling marker close to them if they are hidden.
Occasionally Rio will run into a battle situation. During this time, Rio will need to be told which enemy to target. Once she is locked onto a target, you need to shout to her which area on the enemy to target. Also, you will need to instruct her when to heal herself and when to dodge. A lot of times it is impossible to get Rio to dodge before she is attacked. Also, several times I would try to have her attack a certain body part, and she would either shoot another body part or try to evade. Trying to get her to evade will sometimes even cause her to turn in a direction where she isn’t able to target any enemies.
During the game, there are times when you can talk to Rio in what is called a consultation. During this time you can ask questions about what to do. The game has a word list that you can use, so you aren’t completely in the dark what to ask her about.
There are some times when you feel like you are talking to real person, but those moments are few and far between. Unfortunately, it feels like Rio wouldn’t even be able to go to the bathroom by herself unless you told her to. You feel like you need to tell her everything that she should do. Some things should be more instinctive for her, but unfortunately this is not the case.
Sometimes I feel like this game would have been better as a typical adventure game without the voice communication.Throughout the game, the player can collect chips that will allow you to play mini-games. They are nice distractions, but nothing special. Also, since this is an adventure game, the story seems to be practically the same each time. It might be a neat game to show off use of the USB headset to friends, but once finished, there isn’t much reason to go back to play the game again.