If there’s one thing mobile gamers hate, it’s metered gameplay. Having to constantly wait (or pay) to progress through a game is a truly frustrating experience. But what if that waiting was built into the experience? 3 Minute Games set out to do just that with sci-fi choose-your-own-adventure game Lifeline.
The setup for the game is awesome: You receive an out-of-the-blue message from Taylor, formerly an astronaut on the starship Varia. I say formerly because the Varia has had a bit of a crashing problem, which has left Taylor stranded – and presumably alone – on a distant moon.
From there, the game is a series of two-option choices that will determine what Taylor does next. This is where the ‘metered’ gameplay comes in. Taylor’s actions are done in real time. That means that when Taylor goes to sleep, you can expect radio silence for the next eight hours or so. When Taylor says it’ll take an hour to get somewhere, you’ll probably wait an hour to find out more.
This mechanic would be (read: is) infuriating in most other games, but it actually works as a strength in Lifeline. The game very much wants you to feel like you’re talking to someone who is actually stranded on some distant moon, experiencing the tragedy of being the sole survivor of a crash landing. And there’s a certain degree of enjoyable unease that comes with not being able to immediately see the results of your decisions. Was it a smart idea to have Taylor keep walking, even though night was falling? Should they really sleep where you told them to? You’ll have to wait to find out.
And if you’re anything like me, you’ll be eager for the next update. The story is well-written, and you might even start to feel a connection to Taylor, similar to a favorite character in a book or television show. If I had any complaints about the writing, it would be that Taylor’s frequent jokes sometimes make them feel less like a stranded astronaut and more like a sarcastic teenager. However, it’s no worse than any sci-fi movie that uses humor to break up a darker plot.
Unfortunately, the game falls victim to the same issue that countless choose-your-own-adventure games do: it all generally ends up in the same place. Sure, there are significant variations to each of the endings you can get, but for the most part your choices will all funnel you into the same situation as the game comes to a close. Those endings are not bad in and of themselves, but it does make the decisions you made earlier on feel somewhat meaningless.
One thing the game does do incredibly well, however, is segmenting the information you receive based on your decisions. You only get to know what Taylor tells you, and if your choices don’t lead to that, you might not get the whole story. That might be frustrating to some, but this too adds to the immersion. Even with the ‘best’ ending, there’s a whole slew of questions you could ask that the game deliberately leaves unanswered.
In total, it should take you about three days to progress from first meeting Taylor to finding out their fate. This will depend on the choices you make and how quick you are to make them. And once you’ve reached an ending, you’ll unlock the ability to rewind the story and see how different choices play out. You’ll even have the option to play in “fast mode,” which removes the waiting period between updates – though I don’t personally care for this feature.
If you haven’t picked up on it already, the game is at its best when it is creating an immersive atmosphere. And for the most part, it does this exceptionally well. There are some minor detractions from this, but, overall, Lifeline is an exceptional piece of interactive fiction. Hopefully, it is a precedent for further exploring the real-time storytelling genre, both from 3 Minute Games and other developers and storytellers.
A great interactive story
Lifeline is an immersive storytelling experience that puts the player inside the story.