Platforms: PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, PC (Reviewed)
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Released: Episodically (Episode 5- 20th October 2015)
The following review contains minor spoilers for Life Is Strange. Nothing that impacts the plot heavily, but if you want to know nothing at all about the game going in, then count yourself warned.
There’s something wonderfully kooky about Life Is Strange. From its diverse set of characters to the way its time manipulation mechanics affect both its adventure game mechanics and labyrinthine plot, to its masterful sense of atmosphere, it’s a game that sets itself apart as an emotional journey.
An adventure game in the vein of modern Telltale titles, Life Is Strange follows Max Caulfield, a young photographer (known for her fondness of selfies, prevalently) who returns to her hometown Arcadia Bay so that she can attend the prestigious senior school Blackwell High. The game starts when Max discovers that she can manipulate time, rewinding events a short duration so that she can affect the way things play out. It’s just as she discovers her ability that she’s reunited with her old best friend Chloe, who attended the wayward punk rocker school of adolescence. The old friends reconnect as they investigate the disappearance of Rachel Amber, as well as other strange occurrences at Blackwell and Arcadia Bay.
Where the game really shines is in its characters. Over the course of the game, many of the characters were really well fleshed out, and I was occasionally surprised at the depth of some of the secondary players. The game heavily focuses on Max’s relationship with Chloe, who might be my favourite video game character this year. One thing that everyone will notice pretty quickly is how a lot of the dialogue has the feel of being written by people in their 30s and upwards trying to emulate the way that millennials talk. While it takes some getting used to, there is kind of a cheesy glee in characters straight-facedly saying sentences like “fuck your selfie”, or anything with the adjective “hella” thrown in.
What’s interesting about Life Is Strange is how the time rewind mechanic slots into the decisions you make. I often found myself making a decision, watching it play out, then rewinding and trying other options. You might think that this would cheapen the sense of the importance of the decisions that you can make, but I often found myself agonising over which decision I’d prefer to live with between to equally “wrong” options.
The rewind mechanic is also very smartly worked into the interpersonal aspects of the game. For instance, there’s one character whose room you visit in the story, and if you search a particular part of their room you’ll find a pregnancy test. They’ll notice your nosiness and become understandably annoyed. Rewind the game, however, and Max will retain her memories of finding the test, and will be able to carefully broach the subject with the character in a more supportive way, leaving that character with a much nicer view of you.
Time manipulation and linked themes like the butterfly effect are very prevalent in Life Is Strange’s satisfyingly twisty plot. The game’s writers have done a fantastic job of keeping the story relatively unpredictable, with most episodes culminating with a pretty huge hook that drove me forward to find out what happened next, in particular episode 3. Despite the frequent twists, the plot never felt contrived, unearned, or overly complex.
Life Is Strange is a game best enjoyed at a somewhat sedate pace. In fact, there are myriad opportunities to sit down and listen to some wonderfully chosen piece of licensed music as the camera pans around your surroundings. The soundtrack really is well put together, and really sets the right tone for the coming-of-age story. Lots of chilled-out, vaguely indie tunes that really lend themselves to taking a breather and just sitting back for a pleasant couple of minutes before jumping back into the frequently heavy narrative.
The game’s pretty nicely put together aesthetically, too. Characters, while a little bit wooden in their animation, are facially expressive and visually distinct, while the colour palette of Arcadia bay is awash with luscious colour. The bright visuals are a delight, and really help punctuate the lighthearted introspections while contrasting with the dramatic turns when the game gives us contrastingly dark and somber tones.
Slightly hackneyed dialogue and the occasional poorly delivered line don’t stop Life Is Strange’s characters and story from shining. While most won’t struggle with the game’s simple puzzles, there’s much fun to be had in riding out the story in your way, trying to predict the far-flung consequences of your decisions. Life Is Strange is a beautiful experience that makes use of derivative parts to make a beautifully unique whole that should not be missed.
Image credits: kotaku.com