Lifeline Impressions

Konami announces it will publish the unique Japanese title Operator's Side in the US.

Konami has announced that it plans to publish the Japanese game known as Operator's Side in the US under the name Lifeline. The game was released in Japan earlier this year and uses a USB headset as its main control interface. The game features a unique gameplay mechanic that uses voice recognition technology to let you interact with the game's main character.

The game is set in a space station in Earth's orbit in the year 2029. The game picks up shortly after the space station, which serves as a hotel, is rocked by an attack. You'll start the game in the station's main control room. Your only link to the rest of the station is a comlink with a woman named Rio who also survived the attack. Your goal in the game is to help guide Rio to safety by speaking to her through the microphone link she shares with you and watching her through the station's security cameras. Along the way you'll discover what exactly happened during the attack on the station and hopefully get around to saving yourself as well.

The demo of the game we were shown highlighted various elements of gameplay to give us an idea of what to expect from the game. As you'd expect, voice plays a big role in your experience with the game. The voice-recognition technology being used in the game will recognize more than 5,000 words and 100,000 phrases such as "shoot" and "run!" You'll also be able to stack up to three commands, which Rio will execute in order, such as "dodge and reload," which can be essential for combat. While directing Rio in combat may sound odd, the mechanic works quite well. When Rio encounters enemies, they will each be identified by a number above their individual health displays. You'll be able to select which target to attack by singling them out by number and even be able to target specific parts of their bodies as well. Communication will also come into play as Rio explores the damaged station looking for a way out and searching for clues about what happened. After identifying certain objects you'll be able to examine them. Over the course of the game you'll come to discover skills that will come in handy as she tries to stay alive.

However, the action isn't always going to be a constant struggle for life. Rio will be able to unlock minigames--for instance, in one you will take turns naming off all the state capitals with Rio--by collecting capsules on her way to salvation. Beating Rio in a minigame will restore some of her health.

The graphics in the game are varied and detailed with some unsettling designs for the assorted foes Rio will be facing. The station is an odd mishmash of rooms that are in various states of distress due to the recent attack. The demo showed off a solid amount of variety in the locales Rio will be going through. We also saw a variety of special effects used to show off the various weapon effects during combat.

In terms of audio the game featured a good soundtrack with a nice undercurrent of creepiness. While still early in translation, the version of the game we saw already incorporated some English voice work. The US version of the game features Kristin Miller, one of the stars of the NBC series She Spies, as the voice of Rio.

Lifeline is a welcome surprise in Konami's upcoming lineup. The unique gameplay is an interesting departure from what's coming for the PlayStation 2 and certainly has us curious to try it. Lifeline is currently slated to ship in February of 2004.

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