I feel like Lifeline could have been okay if it had been more thoroughly thought out, but as it is, a lot of the game seems to work against itself. The premises of the game are fairly contrived, and yet it hardly does anything with them.
The player is supposed to be in the control deck, looking through cameras, yet has no access to the controls. All they can do are things she should be able to do from her position, and which often doesn’t make sense from the player’s position; stuff like using a keypad or examining documents. Besides the last boss, the player never has to split attention between what Rio’s doing and what they as an operator need to do, nor (besides the first encounter with the spider, kind of) use hotel functions to help Rio while she’s busy.
There are a few times where the player can see things Rio can’t, but that’s not much when she doesn’t even care about the things she does see, and the only cameras ever used are the ones pointed at her. (It’s as if it she were being controlled in a video game!) The game never lives up to Night Trap’s level to require/allow checking behind a door to see if it's safe, or inspecting places Rio can't access, or searching through the other views in order to find things. Even though most of the game is about finding “shutter keys” and stone rooms and other survivors and stuff!
The player can’t communicate with other survivors, either, even though many are hotel staff who should have access to the com lines. Not that they can really communicate with Rio, either. A huge bulk of the game is long-winded cutscenes where the mic just doesn’t work, often just waiting for the prompt to finally pop up after Rio finally finishes explaining what to say for the fifth time (with several pauses between explanations). The real conversations are rather bland and boring; I assume they’re there to make the player develop a relationship with Rio, but the hack translation and idiocy during gameplay just make it one of disaffection.
Better to just skip trying to develop this relationship by making Rio a cute animal, so the player automatically cares about her. Honestly that would have solved a lot of problems. The poor recognition could be passed off as Rio not truly understanding human speech, and even having a mind of her own. Then she could finally have some sense of initiative and self-preservation, since a pet going off to do its own thing would be endearing rather than annoying.
While that’s going on, the player could do their own thing. They wouldn’t have be locked up the whole game, but could walk around and perform expected actions (such as looking at things to figure out what they are, which would also be helped by having a more grounded setting), but the actual objectives would require actions that a human can’t do. So then the player works together with Rio to achieve both of their goals, and develop a real relationship on the way.
The worst part was the combat, which was incredibly clunky, annoying, and unnecessary. Really, if it must be included, restrict it to a few, simple actions, and maybe even make it turn based, since Rio can only do one thing at a time anyway. Don’t expect the player to be able to perform all the maneuvers and with the dexterity and timing they could with a controller, and don’t lock some of the maneuvers away as findable secrets. There could still be a progression of abilities, but make the unlocks cool new moves rather than basic functions.
Overall, the game just lacked a lot of polish. It could have also used something that grabs customers’ attention other than bad controls. As it is, it only attracts people who like cheap Resident Evil knock-offs, or maybe are desperately lonely. If you’re gonna bank on the appeal of a recognized, well-received franchise, use the real thing, or at least imitate one that fits with the game’s design (and has an audience that would be interested in that design!).
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