Early Lifeline Impressions

The early, negative reviews for Lifeline made me wary of my purchase. Some of the write-ups for the game weren’t just negative, they were downright nasty. A few of them were borderline misogynistic, likely reflective of the authors’ past communication failures with the fairer sex. If anything, those particular reviews tended to emphasize the reviewers’ own psychoses rather than any actual faults in the game design. Take this EGM gem:

You mostly bark the names of objects, since Rio is stymied by fancy words like verbs, adjectives, and prepositions. Propositions she sometimes understands, but her prudish responses aren’t much fun. Pity. When Rio misconstrued my clearly enunciated “break room” and used (wasted) a health pack–twice–I lost all interest in her survival. Stupid ho.

Voice recognition will be a lot more fun when it works. Until then, if I really want to be ignored and misunderstood by a girl, I’ll go clubbing and hit on the haughty hipster chick in the Pabst Blue Ribbon T-shirt.

Reason number 324,529 as to why EGM is useless.

After playing the game for about two hours, I have to conclude that most game reviewers have some form of speech impediment. Or, even more likely, they were expecting something that this game definitely is not… a chat bot.

All things considered, the actual voice recognition is pretty damned good. With all the criticisms against it I was surprised to see it work flawlessly from the start. I was expecting a “training” period to tune the recognition technology (normal practice for many such applications), but there’s none of that — it starts recognising “run” and “walk” and “bottle” right from the get go.

The problem with Lifeline isn’t the technology, it’s the game design. Despite the nifty interface, Lifeline is a derivative game with derivative problems. It’s just random key fetching, weak characters, Parasite Eve-like action sequences (ie. not very action packed), and derivative “survival-horror” on top of an 8-bit vocabulary (think Shadowgate).

For a game that claims a 5000 word vocabulary, you find yourself repeating the same few commands over and over again. Any deviation from that results in a confused Rio asking “you want me to do what with what?” So the adventure portions of the game boil down to a collection of commands in the vein of: “check table”, “take chip”, “check pamphlet”, “read pamphlet”, “go bedroom”, “go hallway”. Doing it by voice is new, but this game mechanic has been used (and used better) two decades ago. It just doesn’t cut it anymore.

There are many other faults, but that’s about all that’s worth saying at this point. It’s an interesting concept that, given a lot of refinement, can be a great game. It’s just not there yet. Here’s hoping for a sequel someday. Not anytime soon — maybe on a next generation system — but one day. Give the designers four to five years to sleep on the idea.

The Early (and likely to be final) Verdict:

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