The premise of Choice Provisions’ latest game, Laserlife, instantly had me intrigued. If you go to the developer’s website, the first paragraph that introduces the game reads, “Remember what it means to be a human in this interactive biography of a dead astronaut found in deep space by future intelligences who have no concept of humankind.” That kernel of an idea sounds fascinating. However, Laserlife fails to meet its ambition and instead ends up being a short, rather plain rhythm game that – while enjoyable – doesn’t deliver on its message.
As soon as you start playing, Laserlife feels pretty bare. There are not a lot of options, and there’s really only one place to start as you progress through this astronaut’s memories until you inevitably complete the game. There’s no tutorials, other than a basic button map layout as you begin each stage, and unless you read the developer’s website, you won’t have any idea that you’re supposedly playing as a “future intelligence.” I didn’t. In the end, the idea of a rhythm-based interactive biography got me playing, but the overall package left me wanting and fails to bring that idea to life.
Thankfully, the rhythm-based gameplay is the real meat of the game because it’s not only one of the most unique takes on the genre I’ve played, but it’s also really enjoyable. In Laserlife, your job is to bring memories to life by controlling two lasers through three different sections of each stage. Each joystick on the Dualshock 4 controls a laser and you’ll have to interact with what’s on screen in different ways for each section. The first involves collecting orbs by lining your laser up to them and hitting L2 or R2 to gather them. In more difficult stages, you’ll have to hold certain orbs for a period of time. This stage is meant to represent gathering the materials needed to recreate a memory. The second section is about putting those pieces together by guiding your lasers through the correct hoops, no additional input needed. And finally, the last phase has you dodging blockades that would otherwise halt the recreation of the memory. As is normal in rhythm games, you’ll be collecting, passing through, and avoiding mental blocks all to the beat of the music.
I really enjoyed the fact that you don’t do the same thing over and over again throughout Laserlife. Each section feels significantly different than the next and in the context of the game, what you’re doing in each part makes sense. My personal favorite is the 2nd section because the music builds into something incredibly driving and exciting, fitting perfectly to the visuals on screen of a memory being recreated. There’s always a sci-fi, electronic tone to the music, and it fit perfectly with the atmosphere of the game. Nearly every stage had me nodding my head keeping me on track to what was going on in the game.
The visuals throughout your memory excavation ranges from the mundane to the fantastic. It’s really hit and miss for me. Again, each section does something a little different but only the second sections really stand out as something engaging. As you watch the astronauts beach house recreate itself, you can’t help but be caught up in the experience. If you’re not reconstructing memories, then you’re simply gliding through space with some bizarre effects popping up here and there. At some points, you might see something that will catch your eye but a lot of the space environments actually repeat throughout the game, which is a little disappointing.
My biggest problem with the actual experience of playing Laserlife is that it’s not always clear where you need to guide your lasers in order to hit the right spots. After you start playing a stage or two, you’ll begin to get used to the thumb acrobatics required to keep up but as more and more icons appear on screen, the harder it becomes to know where you need to guide your lasers. Since you basically fly through each level, these icons are coming at you, but there’s no grid or identification to show where you’ll need your lasers at. Combine that with the fact the camera sometimes swings around and it’s really easy to miss a few notes to figure out the correct placement. In the memory recreation phase, the nodes will light up when you’re properly aligned, but sometimes things move too fast for that to help.
Each stage is a separate memory of the astronaut’s and they are meant to give the player a deeper understanding of who that person was. The crux of the game is about digging into this dead man’s head and reliving his most precious moments. Playing Laserlife is fun, but the payoff is disappointing. At the end of each stage you’re presented a large object and a single line of text that goes something like, “Remember _____ .“ Maybe I need a better imagination but after going through about a dozen levels that “recreated” this man’s important memories, I still felt like I had no idea who he was, or what was being accomplished by the “future intelligences” digging them up. The entire premise of the game had so much potential but I never once felt like it worked out in the game.
Laserlife is not a difficult game, nor is it very long. Again, on Choice Provision’s website they mention that this game should be played in about a single two-hour sitting. This will allow you to get through all of the game and unlock all the memories of the astronaut. And really, that’s about all there is to Laserlife. You can chase high-scores and compete with others in the online leaderboards as well as switch difficulties if you so choose, but I don’t really feel compelled to return to Laserlife anytime soon. Some of the music is great, so I might want to hear those tracks again, but I feel like I got everything I could out of the game in a pretty short time.
There’s a chunk of something amazing in this game. The idea behind it is worth pursuing but Laserlife doesn’t meet the high ambitions it set out to achieve. The rhythmic gameplay is fun, varied, and deeply engaging but the full package around the game isn’t compelling enough to dig deep into. These guys know how to do rhythm games. They made Bit Trip Runner for crying out loud! So the core gameplay is sound and it’s an interesting step into something new for the genre, but the story and ambition behind Laserlife never get it off the ground. For a game about memories, it’s a shame that Laserlife doesn’t have anything truly memorable about it.