Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher & Release Date: Square Enix, 30th January 2015 (Episode 1)
Available Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC, PS3, Xbox 360
This has been a week of reviews. First, I reviewed This Savage Song by V. E. Schwab for last Saturday’s featured post, then we had the first Mini Review of Coraline by Neil Gaiman, and now Life is Strange. If you follow me on Twitter you will know about my love for Life is Strange. I have played through the complete game twice now, and absolutely adore the soundtrack – which I am currently listening to as I write this.
Life is Strange is an episodic, choice based game set in the fictional town, Arcadia Bay, Oregon. You play as Blackwell Academy photography student, Max Caulfield, as she develops her new-found ability of time travel; and attempts to unravel the mysteries of Arcadia Bay with the help of her best friend, Chloe.
Characters and the Narrative
Life is Strange presents a brilliant balance between light and dark. Between the heartwarming and the heart-shattering, this game delivers an emotional blow, with some episodes, leaving you tear stricken, staring at a wall, questioning all the decisions you made leading up to that point. This emotional reaction is a direct result of the character building throughout; not only with Max and Chloe, but every character you encounter, or choose to encounter – you may choose to completely ignore all side characters, in which case, you will miss out on the relationship building element which could aid in your future progression through the story.
Furthermore, the way you interact with a side character could impact the game later down the line, – if you neglect being nice to NPCs, you may find it more difficult to interact with them later on – being nice is pivotal if you want to be successful. Additionally, talking to every available character adds a depth to the world of Arcadia Bay, and may open up a new path to achieving your goal.
Plus, there is a multi-layered narrative, following various stories, which all culminate into one larger narrative which reveals the mysteries of Arcadia Bay. The plot explores a variety of themes, from light-hearted romance and friendship, to sacrifice and death. Also, photography has a massive influence on the narrative and mechanics of the game – but, I don’t want to include any spoilers so that is all I am going to say about that.
Unfortunately, the narrative reaches its climax with one final choice. This final decision only allows you to choose one of two endings. No matter how you played your game leading up to this point, there are only two choices, and the cinematic scene that follows is not impacted by earlier decisions. I had the opportunity to watch both endings as I chose the opposing one during my second play through. One of these choices is quite open-ended, leaving many questions about the events of the game and what will happen to the cast, – sadly, no questions will be answered as the sequel, which is in talks, will have a different cast and setting. The other possible choice is devastatingly emotional and manages to wrap everything up in a nice, neat bow.
This game is packed to the brim with tiny details. Throughout you are prompted, by a sketched arrow, to examine items in further detail. From a letter, to a distant vehicle, these small, easily missed opportunities can alter your conversational options with a character. Missing such an opportunity could mean a missed chance to collect more information to uncover the mystery of Arcadia bay, or a conversational topic you will no longer have the option for. I adored the intracity; and how, once reflecting on a scene, I realised how vital that small bit of information was. Again, it added more detail to the world of Arcadia Bay, urging you to explore every inch of the beautifully rendered environment. This also allows for more approaches to a situation, do you blackmail or sympathise to get what you want? It is your task to find the information and determine your approach.
Moreover, if you ask someone to name an episodic series of games, the initial response is Telltale. Telltale is a gaming studio known for The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones and The Wolf Among Us episodic, interactive games. Their games typically blend quick time events (QTEs) with story elements, which works pretty well. However, Life is Strange is purely story based. No QTEs. Personally, I adored this as it was as if I was watching a television show that I could interact with; where I did not feel the stress of having to press certain buttons in a pressurised situation. Because of this, I would not recommend this game to any action-orientated gamers. This is more geared towards someone who is looking for a compelling narrative and a developed cast and setting.
The dialogue can, at times, be quite cringeworthy. Maybe the producers don’t know how modern teenagers communicate, or maybe they were exaggerating the phrases as a critique of hipster culture. Whatever reason, it is definitely one of the downsides of this game – especially if you play while other people are in the room.
On the other hand, it is rather nice to play a game with a main protagonist that I found easy to relate to. Max is an 18-year-old girl, an introvert, creative minded, with a desire to help people – not unlike myself. Like when reading, finding a character who you share traits and ideologies with, makes it easier for you to wish them success and a happy ending.
Overall, I adored this game. It is detailed, well-developed and hosts a compelling narrative with one hell of a plot twist. I connected with the characters and cried when things got emotional. Of course, there are faults with the dialogue and the final binary decision making, however, these things will likely be worked on for the second game. Life is Strange is on my Top 10 list of favourite games of all time, right beside Skyrim and accompanied by its 5/5 star rating.
Have you played Life is Strange? If not, I recommend you check it out and leave your opinion down below!