Review: Life is Strange

All our lives are full of choices, some turn out right, some wrong but others make our life weirder. But if you can also turn back time, then your Life is Strange.

Genre(s): Adventure

Developer: DONTNOD

Publisher: Square Enix

Release Date: January – October 2015

Played Full Season

Platforms: PC

Purchase At: Steam

Good:

  • Superb writing.

  • Rewind power.

  • Fantastic plot.

  • Wonderful references.

There is nothing Bad in Life is Strange

Review

Life is Strange follows Maxine “Max” Caulfield, a photography student at the prestigious Blackwell academy. She’s shy and a massive photography nerd. She looks at photos and cameras with what can only be describe as lust. She’s loyal and true to her friends. She’s probably like someone you know.

While in the bathroom taking a photo of a butterfly she witnesses a girl getting shot and instinctively reaches out, triggering her rewind power. The second time around she saves the girl, who turns out to be her childhood friend, Chloe, her partner in crime for the rest of the game. Together they’ll uncover what hides in Blackwell Academy’s shadows.

Life is Strange has perhaps the most human characters I’ve ever encountered in a videogame. Max, Chloe, Warren and every other person you meet in Arcadia Bay is believable, relatable and, unless they’re complete bastards, even likeable. This is a game of choices, and you feel so much for the characters that each choice is powerful, so much so that you’ll think about rewinding time just for a do-over. Max only wants the best outcome for her loved ones and you’ll feel the same.

The writing for the entire game is superb. The plot is phenomenal and in a game where you rewind time and see all possible outcomes, it’s amazing how they can still throw you curveballs and catch your eye with red herrings in this supernatural mystery adventure. There are cliffhangers, shocking moments and emotional ones in abundance and they’re all effective. DONTNOD tells such a fantastic story in Life is Strange that you never desensitise to the events. Part of this is a true understanding of what makes a believable story and world—an equal mix of good and bad. It’s not predominantly gloomy but also not completely bright and cheerful, and so when things happen, it works.

The writers also clearly know their media. Life is Strange has an abundance of references. For example, in one section you’re gathering clues and some of them are license plate serials, and a couple spell out Twin Peaks and Twilight Zone, classic series dealing with weirdness.

Intricately connected with your choices and the plot itself, Max’s Rewind power is the driving force of the game. At any point during a scene you can rewind the last few minutes while holding the right mouse button. If you hold the Shift key, it rewinds faster. You can undo conversations, major choices, actions done by other characters and so much more. While there are traditional logical and inventory puzzles, the best ones use the rewind power. For example, in one scene you’re trying to get something from a shady character but he won’t talk to you. By talking to others, rewinding and speaking to them in different orders, you get all the dirt you need on this character, so he has no choice but to pay attention. One of the easiest things to forget when solving puzzles and other situations is that while objects and your actions rewind, Max stays where she is, so if you’ve made something fall and crash, you can just finish what you’re doing and then rewind. This something I kept forgetting and found myself stuck on puzzles.

Life is Strange is different from other choice-based story-driven adventures in that its puzzles aren’t an afterthought but genuinely interesting. DONTNOD knew it was making an adventure game so they made sure to add in challenges, brainteasers and more than a few simple puzzles with red herrings to complicate things if you’re not paying attention. During Episode 4, I was stuck at a ‘hacking’ puzzle because I’d disregarded the real answer as too easy. I applaud the bait & switch.

But what makes it truly special and stand apart from its peers is that because of your ability to change time and the powerful writing, the choices matter even more. You can see the direct outcome of your actions and decide if you want to tweak them, so when you commit to one of them, it’s final and emotionally satisfying…or harrowing. When I played it, I made the decision to live by my choices and not tweak any of them. But even so, at the end, I broke my rule because I saw what my choice did to a character and I wanted to save them the pain. There are a couple few one-off choices that you can’t erase but I don’t mind it, as it would ruin the emotionally charged moments.

Visually, Life is Strange is gorgeous in its cel-shading glory. Characters look amazing and their individual mannerisms and life-like movements complement the writing and help you believe these people are real, that you could meet them on the street on the way to work. I loved Blackwell academy, with its hundreds of photos of students, the arts classrooms with paintings and cameras, the bathrooms with graffiti and the beautiful campus. Makes me wish I could go there in person.

Sound, much like the rest of the game is superb, with a gorgeous soundtrack and outstanding voice casting. While I cringed at each use of “hella” and “awesomesauce,” the deliveries were convincing and highly emotional. When the actors cry, you believe they’re sad and if you’re like me, you’ll be tearing up with them. Same thing when they’re angry, you can feel the rage coming off your speakers and you can see them in their mannerisms. They’ll pace and shake, look around and fume. It’s absolutely brilliant.

Conclusion

Life is strange is the absolute best choice-based story-driven adventure game I have ever played. This is how everyone should make games in this genre from now on. It’s so good I’m giving it an impossible score.

There can be only one.

TMA SCORE:

6/5 – Highlander!

4 responses to “Review: Life is Strange

  1. I loved this game with such a passion and I’m glad it broke your rating system! I used to believe Telltale were the Gods of point-and-click story based adventure games. Now they have some damn serious competition. Awesome review by the way!

    Liked by 1 person

    • Thanks! I’m not gonna hand out those ratings to any game. Broke the system for this truly magnificent game and in the future it’ll be the same. Probably one per genre.

      And I agree on the Telltale front. Life is Strange showed that you could have the choices and narrative without sacrificing the puzzling and strong intellectual gameplay.

      DONTNOD are also much better storytellers than Telltale. These characters and their world feel real

      Like

  2. Pingback: Let’s Play – Life is Strange | The Mental Attic·

  3. Pingback: Puzzle Design – Narrative vs Challenge | The Mental Attic·

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