Lifeline (PlayStation 2) review
"Lifeline’s notorious gimmick is the near-complete neglect of the controller. Instead, it relies upon voice recognition through the PS2 headset. Since you are stuck in the monitor room and Rio has the analytical mentality of a first-grader, you have to guide her every move through the space station via vocal commands."
“Your voice is her command,” says the case for Lifeline. Throw in a cover-shot of the main character bound in black leather, displaying her perfectly perky assets, and that is quite the tempting offer. You can check your naughty domination fantasies at the door though. There’s punishment to be had all right, but you won’t be the one handing it out.
It all began with a celebration in the stars aboard the luxurious JSL Space Station Hotel. You and Naomi were admiring the view when it came - a deafening crash, the cries of guests as a swarm of gruesome creatures tore them apart under red emergency lights, and then, darkness. With no explanation, you wake to find yourself helplessly locked in the station’s monitor room when the voice of a woman, Rio, breaks over the radio. From the station’s web of cameras you can see her trapped in the confines of a cell. She coaches you as to how to unlock the cell door, laying the foundation for one seriously aggravating partnership.
Lifeline could easily be called a Survival Horror game, albeit one that tosses out the usual ghouls, ghosts, and most importantly, clunky controls. In fact, Lifeline’s notorious gimmick is the near-complete neglect of the controller. Instead, it relies upon voice recognition through the PS2 headset. Since you are stuck in the monitor room and Rio has the analytical mentality of a first-grader, you have to guide her every move through the space station via vocal commands. If you want her to read a note lying on a dresser, simply tell her, “Go to the dresser, “ followed by, “Read the note.” It’s an intriguing concept that gives a whole new meaning to the idea of casual gaming.
Rio won’t do anything without your say-so, and she has a surprisingly vast vocabulary. If you want to examine an object but don’t know exactly what it is, try your best to describe it by shape, color, or location. The system feels absolutely brilliant, but only when it actually works. Rio may have a large vocabulary, but her comprehension skills are a little off. Somehow she mistook a sofa for a dresser, food for a bed, and a corpse for a table. No, I don’t have a speech impediment or accent. Perhaps Rio just likes teasing me, especially with her comedic obedience. Tell her to “Run” without a destination, and she runs in endless circles around the room.
In one glorious example of Rio’s stupidity I instructed her to, “Pick up the white paper on the table.” Apparently that meant she should leave the table and head to the restroom. I called her back and revised my instructions to, “White paper on the table.” That time she walked to the living room. This went on for a total of six rounds before my final, desperate attempt worked. I simply said, “Paper.” The tragedy of this tale is that it turned out to be a useless menu for room service. Just wait until you come across one object resting behind another, as almost any word relating to 'behind' or 'back' will cause the poor, confused girl to spin around in shock. This is especially fun during combat.
Sooner or later, Rio will have to face off against the invading creatures. Much like investigating, you have to command her every move by calling out numbered targets, specific body parts to aim for, and evasive actions. Rio is a decent shot, but combat can quickly become a guessing game of body parts. From shoe-sized slugs to walking hands with two meter tongues, each enemy has weak points to aim for. The problem is that weak points change as the creatures are damaged, as they move around, and even for their palette-swapped cousins. Things might not be so bad if Rio was quick on her feet, but it can easily take twenty seconds just to step around a table for a clean shot, assuming she understands what you say.
About the only reason I kept playing Lifeline, besides a mild interest in uncovering the truth behind the invasion, was to explore the game’s bonus features. Hidden throughout the station are a number of tickets and Chips (data cards). The tickets open an assortment of gameplay options, like the Low Kick attack and the Categories mini-game, in which you have to name as many things as possible related to a certain topic. As for the Chips, a new bonus game opens every time you collect four. The first one is a word jumble. Try this one out. A-L-M-P. According to Sony, if you guessed P-A-L-M, you were wrong. See how fun this is?
Take out the voice-recognition and the game is as stale as they come. Lifeline is just another addition to a long line of games that marketed gimmicks as innovations. Remember when FMV was supposedly the wave of the future? Ah, those were the glory days. If Lifeline 2 ever gets made, I vote for doing away with all the combat and exploring. Just give me a FMV Rio obeying my commands. I guarantee that it will be far more entertaining.
Staff review by Brian Rowe (July 18, 2007)
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