After much pushing by a friend, I finally decided to pick up Life Is Strange, a 5 part episodic, multi choice adventure by developers Dontnod Entertainment. Given my track record of games like Arma, Battlefield and other titles in the Shooter and FPS genre I really didn’t know how I would react to Life Is Strange. But man o’ man was I in for shock to the system.
We play as Maxine, or Max as she is commonly known. A slightly hipster-ish, selfie taking teenage student at Blackwell Academy in a fictional town set on the American Pacific coast. During another seemingly regular day at school, Max awakes from a terrifying dream of a monster tornado smashing into her home town, destroying all she knows. Yet to her it felt so much more than a simple dream. As she drifts through the halls towards the bathrooms, while we watch the jocks hassle the nerds and the bitches be trippin’, we get a sense of her place in the dog eat dog world of a stereotypical American high school
With an eye for photography, Max senses the perfect opportunity and takes a picture of a blue butterfly that has flown into the bathroom. As she does, Max witnesses a confrontation between the local rich kid and an unknown girl which leads to a shooting. Reaching out in shock, Max again wakes up in her art class. After realizing she can rewind time, Max returns to the bathroom and saves the life of the girl who was shot.
While this game play feature might sound like it makes the game a little easy. Life Is Strange beautifully ties this into the main, and side story arcs. While at key decisions, Max might slightly breach the fourth wall and comment about how it might not be the perfect choice. I never felt pushed or compelled to rewind and change my decisions. It is worth noting that once you leave a certain area you can’t remind back. So you have to make sure you’re happy with your decisions.
As mentioned above. Max’s rewind ability is tied beautifully into the story and doesn’t feel like a cheap game play gimmick. A story full of teenage adolescence traits that are perfectly managed as such so that they aren’t overly annoying yet build a great sense of character development in Max, and her best friend Chloe. The interaction between the two is lovingly scripted and voiced. And while the lip sync is off, and the graphics artsy, you still get a sense of what they are thinking, and how they feel about each other while the camera pans about. The settings for key interactions between the two is designed extremely well. I’ve been blown away by the lighting, art style and music as they hark back to days gone by that feel an age away as they transition to adults and try to figure out why Max can rewind time.
It must be said, without trying to go into review mode too much. That there are dialogues between Max and third party characters that get a bit annoying, seem pointless and unnecessary. But Life Is Strange makes up for that with the main characters. There comes a moment in Episode 4 that kicks you right in the feels. While a major decision that comes your way never seems final due to setting. The choice alone made me seriously think about what I would do if put in Max’s shoes. I genuinely had to sit back and think about it before deciding. And almost shed a tear or two.
One part of a game I always look out for in games. is also outstandingly well chosen in Life Is Strange, it’s soundtrack. With Jose Gonzalez-esque, indie folk music, including a track from the aforementioned artist. Beautiful acoustic guitar pieces tied greatly with the setting and Max’s occasional reflections just all tie and work together. While the darker tracks help set up the nightmare scenarios.
There are flaws among its brilliance. Certain ways of storytelling, segments and easy puzzles and some poor characters etc. do tone down what is great about Life Is Strange, but there are plenty of key moments of the game that are just brilliantly done and leave an impression on you. Sure the game is mostly linear, yet I can easily just spent time in different areas or cut scenes taking screenshots at the amazing art style. Before diving back into the main story and rewinding back the moments that brought on all the feels.
While the game’s main story does cover a sensitive issue towards the end. There’s something relaxing about Life Is Strange which is a refreshing change from liberating virtual deserts and spreading freedom.
The games underlying tone of violence towards women, that crops up towards the end, is a seriously delicate issue in this day and age. It is a dangerous proverbial tightrope that Life Is Strange walks and has drawn criticism from elsewhere. For me personally there’s something in this tone that enforces the sense of the “innocence of youth” in Max. Her sudden and stark awakening to the danger of the world is also ours.
The 5th and final episode was released recently. Unfortunately covering it would be a spoiler heavy piece.
Available on Steam and PSN at 19.99. At first glance to me, and possibly you, it might not seem your thing. It is definitely worth a try.