Life is Strange
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Genre: Graphic Adventure
Release Dates: 20 October 2015 - Final Episode (EU & NA)
From the developers of Remember Me, a game that ironically not many people remember comes Life is Strange, a game that everyone who has played it will remember for years to come. You play as Max Caulfield, a student at the Blackwell Academy located in the fictional city or Arcadia Bay, Oregon, with a limitless supply of passion for photography. The story kicks off after Max wakes up from a dream about a tornado hitting Arcadia Bay, right in the middle of Mr. Jefferson's class, soon to realize that she can rewind time after bumping into her old friend from childhood, Chloe Price. It's hard to talk about Life is Strange's story without spoiling parts of it, but from that beginning scene onward, the game constantly keeps you on your toes with new and intriguing ideas about what is really happening in Arcadia Bay and not holding your hand when it comes to forming up your own ideas and theories.
Even if the game is not an open world experience as it follows an episodic format similar to Telltale Games, the amount of information packed into the corners of each scene is astonishing, and just picking up every item, taking optional photos and engaging in discussions with other Blackwell students reveals a lot about Life is Strange's cast of characters, so exploration is highly recommended to understand the full story and add depth to its unique cast of characters. The ability to rewind time will, for most parts be available to use at will, giving you the chance to explore different paths in a conversation, see the outcome and then immediately rewind if you want to hear the other version or you're simply not satisfied with the outcome. This also opens up the opportunity to push for information and then rewind time to surprise that character with your knowledge that for as far as they know, they never shared with you, a mechanic that is unique to this game, but unfortunately it's a missed potential since not a lot of conversations have valuable information that you could use this way, and the ones that do are generally pretty basic.
With a game that puts so much emphasis on dialogue, it's surprising to see how little impact your choices have in the outcome of certain events; unlike similar games such as The Walking Dead where your decisions could influence the life of another character, in Life is Strange choices are more like optional background stories that you give to certain discussions, and only a few conversations have an actual impact on the story itself, but even so at the end of the five episodes journey you will still be left with a two-way choice, regardless of everything else that you have done previously in the game.
If you have played an adventure game similar to the ones made by Telltale in the last couple of years, that's pretty much what you are getting into, but don't think Life is Strange is just a rip-off from Telltale's engine with a new cover, because we have to give it credit for being so much more than that. To begin with, you have free movement over your character and it will always be in third person, so you can cut the fixed camera angles from some of the popular games in the genre, which works for the best here since Arcadia Bay is such a beautiful place to explore and the freedom of movement allows you to peek into every corner at will.
The big difference here however is the ability to rewind time, which you can generally use at will, but only on few occasions it has an actual impact on the story and most of the times it just feels like a waste of a brilliant idea. There are times when your ability will lead to some really satisfying moments such as getting on the other side of a door without having the keys and those previously mentioned dialogue moments when pushing for information only to rewind time and surprise the same character with his own thoughts is really mind blowing for the player as well, but there are only a few of those throughout the game, as for the most parts your ability is limited to changing basic environmental things.
In the ways of adventure, Life is Strange has a bit of everything, with environmental interaction, mixed with dialogue, puzzles and even a little bit of stealth, which is nothing that you haven't seen before, but it's mixed so well in quantity and with the story itself, that by the end of the game, you could only wish it would last longer, just to explore one more area and hear more stories from the people around it.
The engine looks pretty outdated when it comes to graphical quality, but the game's art style does a wonderful job of hiding that, as everything is rendered in a painterly manner, making it feel more like an interactive story delivered through moving paintings rather than going for the full-on realism. With this unique style, it's easy to appreciate how beautiful the world of Life is Strange truly easy and take the time to notice all the details put into every single piece of the giant puzzle, growing on that idea of exploration even within a limited scene. The one thing that often breaks the immersion however is the lip sync, which is looks pretty bad in most cases, but if you're willing to look past that, there's still a lively world filled with interesting and unique characters to explore and unfold.
The dialogue is well written and while actress Hannah Telle does an incredible work with the voice of Max, going from the shy girl in the introduction to the rage-driven Max that you will see by the end of the story, and Ashly Burch is equally amazing as Chloe, some of the other side characters could use better voice work, because the difference is noticeable. The greatest part about Life is Strange's audio is the soundtrack, which keeps throwing some of the best tracks in a video game of recent memory, and are always in the mood with the events on the screen, making the story even more touching.
Apart from the story itself there isn't anything else, but you can however replay specific chapters or entire episodes again to find all the optional photos and explore things you might have missed the first time around. The entire game can be completed in around 10 hours, but do keep in mind that this is a $20 title instead of a full priced game.
The person who wrote this story deserves all the possible awards for video game writing, unfortunately some of that greatness does get lost in the execution, but at its core, Life is Strange is an incredibly story of a teenager who discovers her superpower, without sticking to classic superheroes clichés, but instead opting for a more personal, in-depth story that will stay with you for years to come.