Your Weekly Kusoge
Video games are the perfect vehicle for voice recognition; nothing would aid immersion better than being able to communicate verbally with on-screen characters. Yet few developers have attempted anything, with only a small selection of virtual pet simulators and some military games involving giving orders. Konami's Lifeline though stands as the most ambitious of all voice games, featuring a lengthy survival horror adventure where you talk with and guide a young woman to safety - not to mention instruct her during battles. Incredibly, despite being developed in Japan, it was localized for release in the US.
Referred to as the operator, the player has been invited along with his girlfriend to the inaugural Christmas party aboard the JLS Space Station, which consists of a giant space hotel conveniently bolted on to the side of a military-run research lab. Obviously the proverbial happens and all hell breaks loose, whereupon the player wakes up in a control room with access to the station's camera system. Finding one of the hotel waitresses, Rio, the task is to guide her via cameras and radio chat to save your girlfriend and other survivors, discover what went wrong, kill several xenomorphs, and get out alive. Cliched perhaps, but Rio's ability to almost mimic human conversation adds to the atmosphere considerably. You can tell her to examine and collect objects, walk to different areas, shoot specific enemy limbs, bark like a dog, and even get her opinion on barium enemas. She's quite cheeky too if you're impolite.
Unfortunately a few hours play reveals why developers don't touch voice recognition. When it works it's possibly the greatest gaming experience you'll know, but when it doesn't work it effectively means the controller does not exist (tested with the recommended official Ghost Recon USB headset for PS2). The blurb claims Lifeline can recognise 5000 words and 100,000 phrases, though its limited ability to do so is agonising. English speakers with non-American accents will suffer the most, though American players have themselves complained about its haphazard accuracy, implying the game wasn't tested enough - or that the technology wasn't ready.
Rio continuously mishears words regardless of enunciation. Often she thinks you've said "RECOVER", thereby wasting a precious and rare health pack. Battles are excruciating as she only attacks on command and regularly makes mistakes. Later on there's a quiz where you say which arm Rio is holding up, except if the game mishears an answer it forces you to restart, along with several minutes loading. Most will give up at the air ducts, where it's seemingly impossible to have her understand the word "GREEN", quickly resulting in Game Over.
Lifeline isn't difficult in that practice will yield success. It's a game where the interface rarely functions, making it in the truest sense of the word: unplayable. Which is sad, because it is both unique and fascinating, offering a glimpse of what could be if the technology worked. Mostly though it's just mind-bogglingly broken.