Imagine yourself back in high school, mustering up the courage to talk to your crush for the first time. Your heart was likely pounding in your chest and as your first words parted your lips, you hoped desperately that you didn’t appear awkward. Even more so, you hoped that the other person would reciprocate and be able to carry on the conversation past a few volley’s of “nice weather” and “how about Chemistry class?”. Surely you did have those awkward moments as all of us have, but how nice would it have been to be able to rewind time a few minutes and try again? We’ve all been there, and it has likely crossed our minds more than once.
In Life is Strange, you play as Max Caulfield, an 18 year old girl who has been enrolled into the prestigious Blackwell Academy in the nice town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon. She’s a teenager that is aware of her status in the school and balances making new friends with avoiding the drama that comes with the “in group” at school. Early on in the game Max discovers that she has the power (or gift) to rewind time. After using it to unwittingly save anothers life, she tests out the ability a few more times to discover that it is in fact real. But what implications does this ability have on her as an individual, as well as the entire town?
Life is Strange is an artistic and beautifully hand drawn adventure game. Most of your time is spent wandering around and interacting with items in the environment. As you interact with these items you often get a narrated account of what you’re viewing through the mind of the protagonist, and other things enable the game to proceed or open up dialogue with NPC’s. This is where the game truly shines: in its ability to place you in the mind of a young girl going through high school in 2014. The voice acting in the game is great, but the writing left me with a mixed feeling. It’s been a while since I’ve been to school so I don’t how the kids these days talk, but I think and pray that it is not filled with cliché’s and modern slang. Within the opening minutes of dialogue I heard a character say “sad face” at the end of a sentence, and that was shortly followed by a person taking a selfie and having the teacher delve into the history of self portraitures. The writers are clearly going for a very specific vibe of atmosphere at this school. While they mostly pull it off you can’t help but roll your eyes and sigh at the frequent style of vernacular that is used. That aside, the story is extremely entertaining and the way that the various situations unfold are intriguing.
The time travel mechanic in the game is used mostly to solve puzzles and to allow you to use newly acquired information in conversation that you did not know when you first started. This game clearly states at the beginning that the game adjusts to the choices that you make and that they all have consequences. Every time you make a choice in a given situation, you are reminded that this choice will have consequences. It’s quite a stark difference than just saying “they will remember that”, and it gives a sense of foreboding that every choice you make may be the wrong one. So after you have done something of significance, your character will have a internal monologue about your choice. This is another way where the game is unique as it encourages you to rewind time back to the start of whatever you were doing to try something different. I’m a firm believer in video games of sticking to my first choice.
No matter how tempted I may be in games like The Walking Dead, or Heavy Rain to reload the last save and un-screw up the choice I just made, I always refrain from doing so and live with the consequences. In Life is Strange, the developers intend for you to see all of the ways that an encounter could play out, and then allow you to choose your preferred path. Once I made a choice in game my character would say something that would make me feel that maybe I should have chosen differently. Once I rewound time and did it different, she would say something else that made me rethink the choice and almost make the prior decision sound like a better one. This type of style of decision making is great and really leaves the choice of morality or strategy down to the player. Of course this is an episodic game so the gravity of our decisions won’t be known for some time as the outcomes are never answered at the end of episode 1.
The themes of Life is Strange: Chrysalis are no doubt integral to the overarching story that will bridge the episodes together, but one element that exudes is the artistic flair. Max is at this new school to study photography. She sees the world uniquely and always tries to capture moments of beauty, in whatever form they may be, in her camera’s lens. The creators of the game are also very artistic and let their passion flow through in almost every scene. Whether you are “chillaxing” with your childhood friend in her room, going through old memorabilia, or just taking a walk near the ocean and a lighthouse, the attention to detail is beautiful. Families homes feel alive and tell history of the people who live there. Scenic areas camera angles are always perfect. I found myself hitting the “Share” button on my PS4 way more often than I would have liked as the my inner photographer found beauty in the brilliantly placed camera angles throughout the 3 hour experience. I am so glad that other developers are making these story and decision based episodic experiences. Telltale are masters at what they do, but it is refreshing seeing new talent give us a different taste.
Life is Strange, developed by French studio Dontnod Entertainment is great in so many ways. With its gripping and lengthy first episode, I am eagerly awaiting the next so I can find out what repercussions my decisions will have. Episode 1 ends with a foreboding premonition of a terrible event, and I can’t help but feel that the gift of time travel that was given to Max is all key to stopping it. Or maybe it is the cause to it all? We will have to wait to find out. If you love making choices in games and care about thoughtful attention to detail then you should give Life is Strange a go. Although the writers impression of how 21st century teens always talk may be forced and slightly over exaggerated, it is sold with a great story, and characters that you can relate to and feel for as you play along. Life is Strange is a joy to play, simply put.
A review copy of Life Is Strange for PC was provided by the Square Enix PR team, and the game is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC. Episode 2 is coming soon.