Life is Strange sets the bar high for story-based adventure games that will come after it
Frankly, I wasn’t expecting much. Critic reviews for DONTNOD Entertainment and Square Enix’s Life is Strange had been good, but not spectacular across the board. I was convinced it was going to be an attempt at doing a Telltale style adventure with quirky characters within a real-world setting. But boy, was I wrong! I had tried to enjoy Paris-based developer DONTNOD’s previous game, Remember Me, but I couldn’t find some aspects of it particularly appealing. One feature which I did enjoy, however, was the ability to rewrite the course of history utilising the game’s “rewind” feature, which allowed the manipulation of objects and people. Players would get a respite from the game’s action with several of these rewind sections – some of which were pretty cool. Of course, confirming or denying the exact same feature’s presence in Life is Strange would amount to a spoiler, so I will just say this: the game’s emphasis on choice and consequence heavily hinges on its protagonist who wields powers that can only be described as “other-worldly”. It’s up to the player, who steps into the shoes of photography student and uber-nerd Max Caulfield to use this power to rewrite the course of events at her fictional school, Blackwell Academy situated in the idyllic seaside town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon. Her choices will not just affect the characters she encounters, but the universe itself. I’m exaggerating, but you get the picture.
More than just cliché
There’s a lot the game gets right, and stuff it gets wrong – something which can be attributed to being lost in translation. The various factions are well represented, comprising of hipsters, jocks, “cool kids” and nerds, while the injection of high school drama into the proceedings is perfect. There’s a healthy coexistence of cliché and unexpected relationships and equations between the various characters while the game’s premise guarantees that there’s going to be some weird stuff going on. Life is Strange is as much about mystery and basic puzzle solving as it is about choice and consequence, and DONTNOD have really done a remarkable job in presenting the player with difficult choices, scenarios involving mystery, and a good dose of emotion. You will need to have a heart of stone to not be moved by some of the things that happen in this game. Then there’s the pacing. While the game leaves you to your own devices, allowing exploration within a particular scene, there’s always something to break the monotony of whatever you’re doing.
It’s all in the execution
There are issues with some of the character personalities, however. It’s difficult to buy into some of them within the context of Life is Strange. As silly as this may sound, I attribute this to characters being conceptualised with a certain mindset or interpretation, but “executed” in a way that’s odd for an English-speaking audience (think characters in a JRPG, for instance). Fortunately, a) this isn’t a game changer, and b) there’s only the occasional character afflicted by lost-in-translation-itis. Besides, the positives very clearly outweigh the negatives. Speaking of which, DONTNOD needs to be commended for the game’s execution. Life is Strange practically screams “Triple A” every time something happens on your screen. A lot of effort has been put into framing shots. Light has been used effectively to convey various moods, characters (whose lips may not always move convincingly) emote realistically, while the music (which might not necessarily be to everyone’s taste) has been handpicked to perfection. I can’t remember the last time that music felt like an in-game character.
A fitting end?
The fourth episode (the game is a five part series) dropped at the end of July, and it might seem odd that I’m recommending a game which introduced its players to a journey unlike any other as far back as January, but with the impending arrival of its final fifth episode, if there ever was a time to catch up on the first four episodes of Life is Strange, it is now. In fact, it’s infinitely easier to recommend now that I don’t know how it’s going to end because of the impression the first four episodes have left on me. It’s an easy game to binge through on a weekend while you wait for the fifth to drop sometime mid September (this isn’t an official launch window – I’m merely speculating based on previous episode releases).
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