I tore through the original Lifeline, released in April this year, in three days. I can never play it again. You see, as I guided the main character Taylor through a precarious series of decisions on a seemingly deserted moon, I somehow managed to hit upon the exact sequence of answers that led to a perfect ending.
During those three days, in which the interactive adventure pinged me with conversations and requests for guidance in real-time, I grew deeply attached to poor Taylor. Since any new sequence of decisions I attempted was bound to end in Taylor's death, I couldn't bring myself to even try.
The arrival of Lifeline 2: Bloodline was greeted with glee, followed by a pang of disappointment that it isn't the Further Adventures of Taylor, followed by cheerful optimism that the new protagonist Arika could fill the Taylor-shaped void in my heart.
So far, so good.
Developer 3 Minute Games has made a few changes to the formula. It's an urban fantasy, rather than hard science fiction. Unlike Taylor, Arika has a defined gender (she's a woman). Finally, Arika is a lot chattier than Taylor, communicating via a magic spell rather than technology.
Both stories are, however, penned by Fables: The Wolf Among Us author Dave Justus, so there's a comfortable familiarity about Arika.
Like Taylor, she seems almost desperately cheerful in the face of what seem like hopeless odds, reliant on the comfort of an anonymous stranger in the dark (although, given she was trying to contact her brother in a nightmare dimension, it does raise the question of who, exactly the player is). She's willing to do what it takes to achieve her goals (avenge the death of her parents, rescue aforementioned brother).
Like the original game, the game unfolds in real-time, sort of. When Arika needs to take some time to, say, climb a fence, the game will go silent. It relies on push notifications to let you know when Arika is ready to talk again. Each game has a set progression, so if you aren't able to check in regularly (if you have an Apple Watch, this is a little easier), the events will occur a little closer together when you finally do.
But the progression is absolutely at least a few days, which means that you have time to develop a relationship with Arika and wonder what's happening in the gaps when you can't talk to her. That dramatic tension is hard to find when so much fiction is able to be consumed at the reader's pace, rather than at the medium's.
Another element of tension is added by the choices. Most of these aren't a clear-cut good choice/bad choice dichotomy. Sometimes both options will seem bad, sometimes both will seem good. Sometimes you'll make a choice only to find that the language offered to Arika is different from the language offered to you. This lack of simplicity keeps you constantly guessing, hoping you don't inadvertently get Arika killed with what seems inconsequential.
Like Lifeline, once you've completed the game once, you can go back and play again from any juncture, fast-forwarding and rewinding through the parts of the story you've already experienced.
Arika is shaping up to be just as fine a fictional friend as Taylor. And, for the Taylor lovers out there... we still haven't seen the last of them, never fear.
LIFELINE 2 players who miss Taylor... I promise, it all ties together. I wouldn't do you like that.— Dave Justus (@dave_justus) September 22, 2015
You can pick up Lifeline 2 for $2.99 (AU$3.79 or £2.29) from the iTunes app store. An Android version is in the works and will be launched soon.