Thursday 29 September 2016

Lifeline (iOS) review: You keep me hanging on

Published 15/05/2015 | 13:20

Lifeline: a stranded astronaut tries to find a way home
Lifeline: a stranded astronaut tries to find a way home

INSTANT gratification has ruined us. So you’ll need patience to follow the branching plot of Lifeline, a clever spin on the choose-your-own-adventure books.

Lifeline (iPhone/iPad); rating: 8/10; age: 12+

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It doles out the story of a crash-landed astronaut in bite-sized, well-written chunks, as if you’re receiving texts on your phone. You’re occasionally required to respond, offering opinions or guidance as to the next move to escape the planet.

Most of the “conversations” last no more than a minute as Taylor the spaceman muses on his dilemma, ponders his options or simply wonders whether he’s going doolally as the planet messes with his mind. He thinks he’s alone and that everyone is dead. But he can’t be absolutely certain there aren’t little green monsters shadowing his meandering route across cratered landscapes and smashed-up ships.

Lifeline plays out in real time, meaning you sometimes don’t hear from Taylor for hours and leaving you anxiously wondering whether he’s survived his latest move.

Lifeline: simple text interactions with no distractions
Lifeline: simple text interactions with no distractions

Some of your choices lead to his unforeseen (and instantaneous) demise but you can restart with a different option from just before that point. In the end the branching storyline comes off as a big cheat, with hindsight in a replay enabling you to sidestep known hazards.

Nonetheless, when Taylor suffers a mishap or actually pops his clogs, you feel a real responsibility, not to mention regret at your terrible advice.

With nothing but text interaction and a very low-key soundtrack, Lifeline perhaps takes its minimalism too far.

The full story takes three (real) days to play out but you’re kept intrigued by the quality of the script and the novelty of the game’s simple structure, which makes it work as well on your phone as the new Apple Watch.

Lifeline won’t detain you for long and the urge to replay it with different choices is hampered by the linear story. But at just €3 it offers a refreshingly distinct formula for storytelling on your phone.

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