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Written by Jennifer Lam on 3/12/2004 for PS2  

Have you ever wondered what gaming would be like if your favorite Sierra On-Line text-based adventures were voice activated instead of keystroke activated? Well apparently someone in Japan just couldn’t get enough of Al Lowe’s Softporn and decided to take it to the next logical step by adding full 3D visuals and a voice communicated interface. However, like those games of yesteryear LifeLine comes with its own share of problems and the end result is a pretty tedious adventure that probably won’t cater to everyone out there.

You begin in the year 2029 on a floating hotel that’s in orbit around the Earth. A party is well underway when suddenly a group of rogue aliens attacks and the station is thrown into a state of disarray. Chaos ensues and you’re separated from your girlfriend and locked into a security room. It just so happens that one of the station’s waitresses managed to survive the attack and she calls to you on her headset. It turns out that she survived the attack and is now looking for a reporter. Since you’re looking for your girlfriend, the two of you decide that there’s a mutual interest to help her and guide her through the remains of the hotel. Through the use of the various monitors in the security room you are able to guide her through the adventure.

The main selling point of LifeLine is that you don’t actually control the protagonist but rather you guide it with your voice. By utilizing an array of context sensitive commands you’ll guide her through the game and the adventure. While the game may look like a next generation game, it operates very similarly to the very first adventure games that appeared on the Apple IIc’s and IBM compatibles. You don’t really talk and develop a rapport with the character, instead you simply tell them what to do and they’re off. So let’s say you want to tell the person to walk down the hall and to go into the security room, you don’t actually tell them "walk down the hall and open the door." Instead you tell them "go to security room" and then she automatically wanders there on her own. It’s a very interesting game and if not for some major design flaws it would actually be one of the most amazing pieces of technology that the gaming world has ever seen.

As amazing as the voice recognition is it still leads to plenty of frustration. One of the largest problems with those earlier adventure games came with textual recognition. Although a normal person might understand that "look at the bottle" and "examine the bottle" might mean the same thing, those games were very text sensitive when it came to its operation. LifeLine operates in exactly the same way. Yes you might see a bottle on a table but in order to interact with it you’ll need to specifically say "examine green bottle" as opposed to "look at bottle". Early on there’s a scenario where you’ll see a shiny object in a vending machine. Instead of being able to say "examine vending machine" to figure out what it is you’ll have to say "examine dispenser." I don’t know about you but I don’t really think of the slots on the vending machines as dispensers so you’ll really need to know technical terms to succeed.
To compound matters the voice recognition is quite finicky. I told Rio to examine a mirror and she decided to unleash hell upon it by firing a bullet into its center. Later on I told her to examine a trunk and she decided that it too was worthy of a bullet. It’s very difficult to get her to do what you’d like some of the times, especially when it comes to combat. Sometimes I’ll tell her to dodge left and she’ll choose to dodge right while telling her to switch to target two will compel her to fire a few rounds at the first target’s head. I’ve found that the clearer you speak and the less screechy your voice is the better the game works. Some people have a really difficult time speaking clearly and it’s likely to wreak havoc on the game’s voice recognition system. Forget what you may have heard, the voice recognition is not nearly as bad as others have made it seem. It only truly acts up during the combat and that’s only because your adrenalin begins to pump and your pitch can become erratic. It’s not the fault of the game though. Actually it’s the most comprehensive and well crafted system of its kind to date, but of course there are always improvements to be made.

Since the game essentially operates like a graphically enhanced text-based adventure you can expect a number of puzzles and mysteries to stand in your way. Some of them are very simple and won’t really require too much thought on your process. For instance, early on you have to find a key to a shutter that was closed during the lockdown. Finding it is as simple as going a guest room and telling Rio to search around underneath the sink. There aren’t any terribly taxing puzzles that await you but for the most part the puzzles are logical and make sense in the scheme of things.

When you’re not adventuring you’ll be participating in random battles that operate in real time. Since you can’t physically move and control Rio you’ll have to once again use your voice to guide her through the battles. On the bottom of the screen are various body parts that you can target. The key to success here is finding the weak spot on your enemies and then calling them out to Rio. When you want Rio to fire you simply say "shoot" and she takes a shot at the currently selected target. You can also tell her to dodge, flee, reload or to utilize any extra health packets that she has in her possession. To make things a little easier on you Rio can be given multiple inputs at a time. So you can tell her "dodge left, shoot, shoot, shoot" and she’ll follow your commands. Sometimes the combat can be difficult due to the fact that you can’t actually position Rio herself. There are plenty of times when you tell Rio to flee and she’ll end up behind a piece of furniture while her target is on the opposite side. Telling her to shoot is pointless because the bullets will just end up being blocked by the obstacle. Instead you’ll have to sit around and wait for the enemy to come into her line of sight so that she can get a clear shot at it.

Probably the game’s largest frustration is derived from the fact that Rio can’t do anything on her own. She’s not blind, she’s not deaf and she can more than hold her own during combat yet she can’t fire at it on his own? When the guys at Konami first shilled this game to me I was under the impression that she would be blind and you’d have to be her eyes. In truth though she’s perfectly capable and you’re merely just acting as her operator and her eyes in the sky. This means that she should be able to perform all of the logical actions like picking up health kits or diverting her eyes towards bright and shiny objects. I understand the concept that the designers were going for as I never questioned why Sonny Bonds never defended himself in Police Quest without my provocation, but it’s just a little different in today’s age.
There are also a few logical fallacies that plague the game’s gimmick. While for the most part the game does a good job of making you feel like you’re peering out through the lens of a security camera, it often fails in sustaining the feeling. Sometimes there are sweeping shots that start low and gradually rise to the ceiling. At times there are shots that are taken from what appears to be a camera mounted below a table. It’s all kind of weird and it’s also a bit unsettling that a hotel would mount cameras in private places like a restroom. Probably the largest problem though is that your character never actually takes the time to look ahead to see if any dangers are awaiting Rio around the next bend. There are far too many times when Rio enters a room or comes across a blind corner only to be surprised by some gigantic monster. These are small mishaps but they really detract from the game’s overall premise.

While some of the animation and room structures are rudimentary it’s nice to see that some advanced effects were employed in the game. When lights come on they don’t simply flicker on but rather they slowly come on, showering the room with an eerie incandescent glow. Your cinematic vantage points help clean up the look of the game a bit by keeping the more elementary objects in the distance and out of the forefront. When compared with today’s most technologically advanced games LifeLine is merely average. Character designs are pretty basic and Rio’s costume is all one texture as opposed to a system of 3D rendered objects. Things like bows on the back of her apron are part of a texture on her uniform as opposed to being a fully rendered part of her garb. It’s kind of disheartening this day and age to see such basic designs but you don’t get close to her too often so it’s not that much of a distraction.

Rio is voiced by Kristen Miller of the B-show She Spies. Her acting doesn’t exactly light up the screen on that late night fodder but it fits in pretty well here. It never does actually sound like she’s talking to anyone though as the way she annunciates her words gives the feeling that she’s simply reading lines and not conversing. The game’s ambient audio effects are nicely done and fit in nicely with the rest of the game’s theme. Nothing spectacular but it fits the bill.

In the end you have a flawed adventure that tries to do something a little different; and in this day and age such a game must be commended. It’s not perfect but it’s definitely the fix that adventure fans have been waiting for. If you’re looking to cut your teeth on a new adventure game then look no further than Konami’s LifeLine. It has a few problems but when you look past them you’ll find an entertaining game that will hold your attention for a significant amount of time.
Provided that you can stand a few mishaps from the voice recognition system, you’ll be in for an above average adventure game. It’s not the second coming of gaming but it’s definitely the game that adventure fans have been waiting for.

Rating: 7.2 Average

* The product in this article was sent to us by the developer/company for review.

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