Review of Life

There’s a new multiplayer game out in the market. It’s called Life. I’m half way through it, so thought of reviewing my experience of it so far. I’ll try publishing the full review once I’m done playing.

It’s hard to pick a genre to categorize this game into. Its open ended nature means it can be action, adventure, fantasy, horror or all of these combined at once. I’m told that the gameplay differs from player to player, and in fact it could change while you’re playing it. (Honestly, I’ve never seen a game before where the genre changes all the time) This fluid nature of the game is definitely confusing and that makes it hard to box into a label. It really is a genre-busting game.

Unlike most other MMORPGs, you cannot customize your character in the game. The skin color and other accessories available to you seem to be randomly determined and you can’t change those options. Another odd element of the game is that each player starts with vastly different powers – you can get any level of wealth, status, or intelligence when you begin.

As you can imagine from my description, the game doesn’t pretend to be “equally fair” or have “level playing field” for all players. As a player, when you start you could either be really disadvantaged or massively ahead of others – there’s no way to predict what you’ll get.

It’s been hard for me to find an interview of the game designers, but my guess is that they wanted to make an interesting game, not a fair one. If that was the goal, Life succeeds spectacularly. It throws all sorts of interesting challenges: imagine trying to survive when you’re born with zero wealth, or making progress as black in a tribe of white players, or not getting frustrated when you’re born with all powers filled up to the max already.

If I were to pick one defining game mechanic for Life, I’d pick uncertainty. The game environment is predictable, but only to a certain extent – random things can fly out of nowhere and hit you, events that happen far off can impact you, at one moment your health levels are high and then they’re suddenly low. The game keeps on throwing surprises. Similarly, if you’re smart, you can predict actions of other players, but there’s those edge cases that you cannot plan for – even the most predictable ones can act randomly and spoil your well crafted plans. So a useful tip to my fellow gamers is they should expect to constantly adapt to his/her surroundings and whatever else the game throws at you.

On the subject of winning the game, Life has introduced several new innovations. First, the game doesn’t make it clear what does the player need to do to win it. (Heck, it doesn’t even tell you how to play – the tutorials are useless and really don’t prepare you for actual gameplay). In absence of a giant red arrow that says “next level”, many players wander for a while and then simply give up and abandon the game. (I didn’t want to quit because on forums other players were discussing that the game has a bug where quitting it deletes the game from the hard disk permanently. It’s a crazy bug, no? In case you’re wondering how I’m able to write the review, the game is currently running but is minimized. And, no, you cannot pause MMPORGs. If you are a parent, you should know that.)

After playing for the game for a while and getting frustrated with my lack of progress, I noticed a countdown on the top-right of the screen. It quickly became obvious to me that no matter what I did or didn’t do, the countdown kept on decreasing. Initially I thought this suggested that I had to reach some place, or some level or beat someone else before the countdown gets to zero. But, of course, this was merely an interpretation because the game didn’t come with any instructions.

I did some research to find out what did the countdown number indicate. On the game forums, amazingly, nobody had actually seen the countdown hit zero. Instead, the experienced users complained that the counter really had no significance. The majority opinion on the forum was that no matter what the countdown said, the game would quit suddenly and without warning (and then, of course, it gets deleted from the hard disk). These users were quite frustrated by this feature/bug and wanted their money back. They felt cheated that all their effort into collecting powers went to waste when the game quit without warning them. They complained that all their careful plans of using these powers amounted to nothing.

After reading such reviews, I decided to play the game a little differently. Knowing that I had paid dearly for the game and that it could end anytime, I stopped paying attention to the countdown and focused on having fun. I did things that were neither too tough (that I’d bang my head against the wall in frustration), not too easy (that I’d get bored out of my wits). Since I had no idea how long the game will last, I didn’t make long range plans, and also didn’t engage in power collection. Instead, I solely focused on playing the game, one countdown unit after another.

Yep, there have been moments of frustration and times when I wanted to do rage-quit. But, overall, I think this game is a unique experience that’s worth having once. While other games have cheat codes that help you win, this game has none. While other games come with well designed levels and logical gameplay, in this game almost you’ll be on your toes playing levels designed by other players’ and design your own levels for others to play. While other games give you multiple lives and shallow replayability, this game can be played exactly once (and never again after that).

Some players like games with well defined rules that they can master, but I like unpredictability, chaos and surprise and Life fits that bill perfectly.

So, overall, I’ll give Life 4.5/5. It’s available on all platforms and I recommend buying the authentic version (if you can afford a cup of coffee, you can afford the original copy. So don’t be a cheap pirate.)

Hope you like the review. Since each experience of playing Life is unique, consider sharing your review too (I’ll be super interested in reading it).

PS: I couldn’t find contact details of the game designers. In case you know how to reach them, let me know. I’d like to send them a thank you note and ask a few questions 🙂

Have an opinion on this post? You should then about it (or send your feedback on email). Thank you!