Experimentation in games, as in life, is what makes it worth doing. The world needs (and demands) a thousand first-person shooters and zombie wave shooters, yes, but to keep the delicate balance the industry depends on, you need developers and publishers willing to take a risk and innovate. Lifeless ($1.00) isn’t innovative in the traditional sense, but it is an art project about Loneliness. I applaud games that try for deeper meaning. Despite lofty ideas and art not always translating to quality, I appreciate anything that steps outside the conventional box.
I mentioned Lifeless not being innovative. It’s also derivative, doing its best indie impression of Journey, going so far as to mimic its sandy color scheme and architectural style. Imitation is the sincerest form of flattery, they say, and if you’re going to idolize another art game and transfuse its ideas into yours, Journey is a good choice. Though where Journey pushed apocalyptic isolation, the very real fact of being alone, Lifeless has its theme of loneliness, the very real sense of being alone, in a city that is not dead or destroyed. People are everywhere…
…and people are the problem. It’s made explicitly clear at the start. If you approach them, your heart rate increases, and you begin to come undone. Get too close, and you’ll simply ‘disappear’. Except for the lady in red, that is. If another saying exists that says there is someone for everyone, the game allows that conceit. You can leave the city. Outside its walls, through some simple exploration and arithmetic (I won’t spoil the actual details here), you’ll find you have a certain amount of choices and potential outcomes. You can create a ‘happy’ ending.
Or choose the alternative, if you’re sociopathically-inclined. With four possible ‘endings’, it’s really a matter of choice. Though you can opt for finality in one instance, calling them ‘endings’ may be a little generous, as the game merely resets and lets you go again. As a ‘game’, it is not much of one. A half-hour of content, maybe less, with no explanations or ending screens. No palpable reward. It’s up to you to provide the interpretation, and the worth, as both the graphics and the gameplay elements are too simple to evoke a deeper response on their own.
In that way, Lifeless is less a game and more a ‘feeling’ you can interact with. Introspection isn’t for everyone. Either you identify with the ‘character’ or you don’t, though all the empathy in the world can’t make it a more protracted experience or add new options. Lifeless embodies its title, too bare for a dollar. With that said, I hope I see more like it.