Earlier this year, 3 Minute Games partnered with writer Dave Justus on Lifeline, a popular text adventure which used app notifications and player choices to tell the haunting story of a stranded astronaut. The partnership has just released its follow-up game Lifeline 2: Bloodline, bringing players a new storyline. If you skipped the first installment, you’ll be just fine to try out Lifeline 2 without missing anything.
The premise of Lifeline 2 is that you’ve been accidentally contacted by a young mage named Arika trying to reach her brother. She is attempting to rescue her brother and avenge the death of her parents, but to do so she must find magical items to help her. Arika asks that you keep her company on her journey through the communication portal (your mobile device) as you help her make decisions. With a choose-your-own-adventure mechanic, your decisions sculpt the narrative arc and determine Arika’s success.
As in Lifeline, the game unfolds in real time which means you have no control over when things happen. If Arika is sleeping (or otherwise unconscious), spellcasting or journeying, you’ll be left waiting for her to reach out to you again. When she does, you’ll receive notifications and are pulled back into the game. This “real time” feature was at once compelling and frustrating. I dive in and play games when I’m available to do so; I don’t want to play on someone else’s schedule. It was aggravating to sit down to engage with Arika’s current scenario only to have the action stop short while she disappeared to do something. The next time she was ready to engage again, I was always too busy in the real world to jump back into the game immediately.
After a series of bad decisions, my connection to Arika was “lost.” At that point I was able to go back to change responses and play in “fast mode” so I could play precisely at the pace I wanted. I was so relieved to have this option. I sped through the scenes I’d already gone through and eventually made it to a new branch of the story. Even though I had the option to continue in fast mode, I surprised myself by turning it off after a few minutes with the new content. Something about having the story simply rolling out unhindered lowered the stakes and I stopped feeling as invested. Originally, I was glad to have the option to go fast when I wanted/needed; but I was equally glad to return to the pace as designed.
The stakes of the game rest entirely on the relationship to Arika because the whole game experience is based on two textual elements: having a conversation with her and advising her on how to proceed. Everything we know about the world is told through her eyes and everything we must advise her to do or not do is based on this relationship.
Arika is the type that will appeal to anyone who has ever carried a bag of dice (you know who you are). Her references come straight from the nerd playbook including Doctor Who, Dune, Star Trek, Star Wars, Lego, Comic Con, The Lost Boys and Terminator 2. And I’m pretty sure her father’s name being Jareth was a nod to David Bowie as well. She’s witty and wry and I was particularly charmed when she was able to determine exactly what I was wearing.
Though Arika is likeable as a character, there is a rather heavy burden on the player to suspend their disbelief regarding the relationship they are building with her. Arika shares a lot of personal details with this random stranger she’s just met through a miscast spell; she also trusts this person to tell her what to do. I understand that her aggressive honesty and blind trust is at the service of advancing the story efficiently, but I had several TMI moments where I didn’t feel like our relationship had yet earned her level of disclosure.
Ironically, I was once again surprised at my investment in the game when my connection to Arika was lost a second time. She rather unceremoniously cut her connection with me due to a series of decisions I helped her make and I can honestly say I felt the loss. I then doubled down on my commitment to the game. I jumped back in and worked my way to a new branch of options where I could continue on with her and see her through her ultimate quest.
Players will find a compelling companion in Arika and an engaging set of challenges with multiple outcomes worth the time investment and necessary patience. To anyone bemoaning the empty tapping of today’s mobile games, Lifeline 2 offers a rich narrative experience sure to satisfy lovers of the written word.