Game Review: Life is Strange

From Dontnod Entertainment comes, “Life is Strange”, a five part episodic series that began back in January 2015 with the last episode being released in October 2015. It has taken me a long time to finish the game but don’t hold that against me.

After coming to the end of an incredible gaming experience last night that requires so many emotional choices from the player—choices I had make and take to indescribable levels by the time I reached its fifth and final chapter—doing so has been somewhat cathartic. I’ve watched moments where I played through myself countless times, each moments giving a new set of reactions that blend shock, anger, sadness, happiness and regret over the choices that they have made.

Life is Strange is the story of Maxine “Max” Caulfield (a photography student attending art school in her old hometown, Arcadia Bay) and her childhood friend Chloe (a tough-talking punk). Max witnesses the death of Chloe getting shot in the school bathroom during the game’s opening. Shocked and grief-stricken by her friend’s death, Max spontaneously develops time-rewind powers and helps Chloe escape unharmed.  This newfound ability seems to arrive just in time, as Max has been having scary-realistic visions of a huge tornado coming to hit Arcadia Bay in a few days.

Those powers are the central focus of Life is Strange‘s gameplay, letting you reserve time to test out different responses to tough decisions, or sneak into a locked room and then rewind to erase any evidence of your intrusion. It’s a simple idea that incorporates the idea of the butterfly effect and presents the player with a wide range of choices with results ranging from hilarious (Tipping a paint bucket onto Max’s bully) to horrifying (Chloe unexpectedly shoots a drug dealer’s dog which will be forever burned in my memory). In terms of how impactful your choices are, they will have an impact on events that happens throughout the game and are mentioned later on, but the final decision happens the way it does regardless. But the choices you make throughout the game will influence your final choice.

You feel like you’re living Max’s life. As you control her movements, you discover that there are so many things to look at and people to talk to (indicated by white arrows). Little things like extra people doing stuff on campus, squirrels darting across the footpaths, and wind blowing through trees outside make the game so immersive.

This “choose your choices” aspect of Life is Strange wouldn’t have worked nearly as well had its world not been so masterfully crafted and developed. Though you’ll only visit a handful of locations between Blackwell and Arcadia Bay proper, everything feels so full of life and teeming with encounters big and small that help give this place and its people humanity. This is also true of Max’s fellow students at school, as she grows to learn that none of them are who they seem—and whose lives she gets deeper and deeper involved in, both intentionally and accidentally.

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The visuals in each of the episodes are simplistic yet haunting, giving the world a more artsy, dream-like quality that was a far better decision than trying to go the hyper-realistic route. Even more fantastic, however, might be the soundtrack which absolutely sounds gorgeous, a combination of original creations and indie folk licensed tracks that are just as much a character in this story as Max and Chloe and stirs the right emotions for each scene. Although there aren’t as many as I might have liked, the puzzles you will encounter in Life is Strange are almost always clever, offering solutions using time manipulation that feel both smart and satisfying. It’s incredible how you can go through each scenario seeing how a particular situation will turn out until you figure out the answer. There is not always one correct answer however.

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Life is Strange does end with a disappointing conclusion. It fails to handle all of its intense  subject matter well, and ultimately falls short of its potential. However, it does accomplish an impressive picture; a true-to-life story of young love and friendship, a piece of visual art that is so honest about painful experience that its hard to keep your composure through the whole thing. It is a game full of success and flaws but it is undeniably one of the best narrative stories that I have personally experienced. It is no surprise that Life is Strange won the ‘Best Narrative’ in ‘The Game Awards’ in 2015.

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There’s so much more about Life is Strange that I want to tell you about, so much that I’d love to share, but doing so would only serve to help ruin your own experience through the game. I simply can’t recommend Life is Strange enough, even if it initially looks like something that wouldn’t be relevant to your usual gaming interest. I plan on playing it again but choosing different choices to see what outcomes I get. In similar news,  Dontnod Entertainment recently announced that Life is Strange 2 is happening so I am looking forward to that with great anticipation!

This game is available for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.

Game on!

Images are not my own and were sourced from the Internet. 

 

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