Lifeline (video game)
|Genre(s)||Adventure game, survival horror|
Its defining aspect is that the player controls the game entirely by using a microphone to speak commands to on-screen characters. These commands are interpreted by the game via speech recognition. It is generally regarded by game reviewers as average, although its innovation has caused it to become a cult classic among fans.
The game sold well enough to become one of the PS2 Greatest Hits, with the lower-priced version released on September 25, 2003 in Japan. Both versions in Japan included the option to purchase the USB headset packaged with the game. The North American release did not offer this bundle.
In the near future (year 2029), the player is placed in the shoes of a young man who has attended a Christmas party in a newly developed hotel set in a Space Station. As the festivities proceed, problems arise with horrific monsters running rampant across the Space Station. Most of the inhabitants are slaughtered and devoured, with the player forcibly trapped in the Space Station's main control center and separated from his girlfriend, Naomi (Sayaka in the Japanese version). Elsewhere in the monster-infested hotel, a cocktail waitress named Rio Hohenheim (voiced by Mariko Suzuki in the Japanese version and Kristen Miller in the English version) has been locked in a detention cell for her own safety during the massive assault.
The player (referred to as the operator) has access to all Space Station mechanics via the control room and is able to observe everything in the area via cameras placed around the station. Noticing Rio as she attempts to contact the monitor room, the player establishes contact through her headset, and assists her through the perils of the horrendous station, as well as to discover the mystery behind the threat.
In the end, Rio and the operator destroy the lead monster, and she meets the operator in person. The meeting is short lived, as the space station is about to explode. As they escape, they are injured by various explosions, but make it to an escape pod without losing their lives. As Rio thanks the operator, the pod starts a descent towards earth, and it is up to the player's imagination if the two survived the landing.
Lifeline's selling point is its advanced AI system and the ability to direct Rio through the game via the USB headset peripheral. The player is given no direct control over Rio during any course of the game. Instead, the headset's communication aspect is utilized to its fullest, by giving the player the ability to use scripted commands, outlined in the game's various menus. While holding the input mic button (the O button on the DualShock controller), such spoken commands include "hurry", "Stop", "dodge", and "turn left", which cause Rio to perform certain actions and progress throughout the game. Rio can understand up to 500 verbal commands.
The player is given access to various menus which provide inventory insertions, detailed maps, and commands to unlock various parts of the station. By using the menus available, the player directs Rio into combat, solving puzzles, and interactions with NPCs. When Rio encounters one of the game's many monsters, combat ensues and the commands are given to direct Rio which enemy to fire at, which specific body part to fire upon, and when and where to maneuver. Combat perspectives switch between first-person and that of the cameras set about the station, with the latter more suitable for encounters of numerous foes.
Additionally, plot interactions are followed through at the player's general discretion, with Rio inquiring which path of action to take. In common situations, the player can engage in normal "small talk" and friendly conversation with Rio, with the latter sometimes inquiring for it. However, the voice chat has been commonly attributed as the game's weak point, due to inaccurate actions taken when commands are given, and the basic sense of conversation and directions reduced to simple verbs and nouns, particularly when in the course of solving many of the game's puzzles. There are also a few "Easter egg" conversations, in which the player can command her to do less than mature things (e.g. to "Bark like a dog"), or when she asks the name of your girlfriend, if you say Rio she will get shocked on how you could know it. Say the name of her voice actor and she says it sounds familiar.
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IGN noted that while the voice recognition system is "quite deep", the player "will need to practice enunciating regular words and learning the speed at which the game best responds", and "might spend five minutes trying to get the right word to simply inspect a worthless book."
In 2008, Game Informer listed Lifeline among the worst horror games of all time. In 2009, GamesRadar included it among the games "with untapped franchise potential", commenting: "While this frustrated many PS2 owners, it made others feel more attached to the characters. Improvements in headset and voice-recognition technology make a franchise more viable on today’s systems."
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- “The Wrong Kind of Scary: Worst Horror Games Ever,” Game Informer 186 (October 2008): 121.
- 123 games with untapped franchise potential, GamesRadar US, April 30, 2009