Life is Strange- Review

THERE ARE VERY FEW games that I truly get emotional about. I love games, and find the greatest enjoyment adventuring through the imaginative realms. But every so often, a game comes along that truly rips at my heart strings and makes an impact on my emotional state in a way that no other one could. Life is Strange is one of those rare instances.

WITH THE ANNOUNCEMENT of the second game, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, I decided to write about the first installment of the series. Life is Strange was developed by Dontnod Entertainment and published by Square Enix.  It’s 5 chapters long, and is available for PS3, Xbox 360, PC, PS4, and Xbox One.

How I Got into It

LIKE THE UNFINISHED SWAN I was browsing the Playstation Network for any new demos. I didn’t have the money to buy anything so I spent a lot of my time playing free demos. I happened upon the Life is Strange Demo and decided to give it a whirl.

I WENT INTO IT knowing nothing about Life is Strange. I stopped visiting game websites a long time ago, so it’s safe to say I was out of the gaming news loop. Thus, my expectations weren’t very high, but it looked like an interesting play nonetheless. It was the best possible meaning of unexpected, and it blew my expectations spectacularly.

I EVENTUALLY let my wife play through the game. I told her nothing about it. She was, like I was, skeptical and not very interested. She’s into fantasy, dragons, and monsters, so this was straying from her usual territory of .hack, Persona, and Dragon Age. Still, she gave it a try and Life is Strange turned out to be one of her favorite games of all time.

Story

LIFE IS STRANGE follows Maxine “Max” Caulfield , an aspiring photographer that finds herself in the prestigious Blackwell Academy. During another lazy afternoon in photography class, Max soon realizes that she has the power to rewind time. And after a fateful meeting in the girls bathroom, her life becomes inexorably intertwined with the rebellious misfit, Chloe Price. Their hometown of Arcadia Bay literally hinges on their relationship, for better or worse.

Gameplay

THE CLOSEST THING I can equate the gameplay to is a point and click adventure, or sorts. You have full control of Max, and can lead her freely through through the environments. Every so often, people and objects will be covered in graphic scribbles, with choices that players can make. Examine. Pick up. Analyze. Talk.

AFTER THE INITIAL DECISION Max will make quips about what you’re examining, or, in the case of interacting with the various residents of Blackwell Academy and Arcadia Bay, you will go through a list of dialogue choices. What you choose ultimately has an impact on the rest of the story, so choosing how you respond to which person is a critical and important part of Life is Strange. The decisions are difficult to make, and hold a lot of weight and impact as you progress through the story.

YES, I REALIZE that the gameplay is similar to the Telltale series of games like The Walking Dead and Tales from the Borderlands, but I can’t really reference those completely because I’ve never played a Telltale game. Ever. I’ve tried them out, but I just can’t get into the quick time events. I hate those. They frustrate me. And the Telltale games are full of them. Just isn’t my thing.

THE MOST INTERESTING aspect about Life is Strange is Max’s ability to control time. There are certain moments where a swirly indicator appears at the top left side of the screen. When this icon shows up, you can rewind an event and try to change the outcome. There is a finite amount of time that you can rewind, and the power isn’t available in every moment. Only during key decisions that can impact the plot. Okay, that’s not necessarily true, cause you can stop a toilet paper roll from hitting Alyssa in the head. But these do have consequences later on, indicated by a blue butterfly that tells you, “This action will have consequences”. That always gave me an “Oh SHI**!” moment. Like oh crap, that decision is permanent. Maybe I should change it? Rewinding allows you to solve puzzles, make friends, create enemies, and rearrange the environment in very specific ways.

The Good

I ABSOLUTELY ADORE the style of the game. It’s realistic but has a cartoony flair that gives the game a very unique look. It kind of reminds me of like clay puppets almost? Yeah? No? That just me? And I also love the graphic quality to everything. All the messy scribbles and designs that pop up when you talk to someone, interact with the world, read the main menu, or bring up the interface. Everything about this game has a hipster, edgy feel to it, and I dig it!

THE STORY left me with a swift kick to the gut, and a horrible pain in the pit of my stomach, over and over again.  In a good way.  I’ve been intrigued at the way games can deliver story (like Unfinished Swan and Dear Esther) in a more meaningful, nuanced way than some books and movies can.  And Dontnod did just that.  They did an exquisite job of making your decisions not only meaningful, but crafting decisions that left a resonating impact through you choices and the game itself.  Life is Strange, from a story stand point, wasn’t afraid to take chances.  It took a look at some heavy and mature topics that most games would not dare touch.  It has one of the most meaningful, memorable, and heartbreaking stories I have ever played and I cannot praise Life is Strange enough for that!

THE CHARACTERS are interesting and well written. Each has a very unique personality, and it was fun to see the various people that you could talk to and interact with. Max is by far my favorite character in the game since she’s so down to earth, which makes the rest of the Arcadia Bay residents seem crazy in comparison. She’s also artistic, caring, and continues to fight for Chloe, despite Chloe pushing back every step of the way. Speaking of Chloe…

ASHLY BURCH did a phenomenal job as Chloe! I didn’t even realize that she was the Voice Actor until I looked up her website and saw that she was credited as Chloe Price. And I have to admit, since I am a huge fan of Ashly Burch and everything that she does, Chloe is ranked a little higher in my “Favorite Characters” list because of it.

THE MUSIC is really charming. Calming. The easy listening tunes made exploring and Doctor Who-ing the world a delightful treat. It complimented the look and feel of the game perfectly. I could totally pause and just let the music play while I work. Which reminds me, I should pick up the soundtrack, cause the tunes in Life is Strange are freaking boss, son.

I’D ALSO LIKE TO praise the game for it’s strong female character that isn’t a strong female character. By that I mean a female heroin that isn’t good at everything, as strong as any man, and brings up, “They said a women couldn’t do it” or “Women can do anything a man can do” or “Don’t send a man to do a woman’s job.” That’s so arrogant and irritating. I’m so sick of that crap. Seriously. A female character can be powerful and strong without being an over the top know it all, and Life is Strange succeeds in bringing a relatable character that’s likable and interesting.

THE GAMEPLAY is unlike anything I’ve ever played. I loved the rewind mechanic. Life is Strange did something with time that I haven’t experienced anywhere else. The impact it had on the world, the story, and the relationship between Max and Chloe was freaking spectacular! It was one of the most moving narratives that I’ve played in a long time.

The Bad

THE DIALOGUE, while well written, had it’s corny and albeit cringy moments. I felt like some of the things the characters said were a little over the top, like the game was trying too hard too make the characters appear edgy. Like when Dana called Warren Max’s bitch, or when Chloe said let’s talk “bitness”.  Some of it just seemed so forced. I felt like the characters would have been stronger without the unnecessary swearing and slang. Then again, maybe I’m just old and out of touch with how these youngens talk nowadays.

I ALSO WASN’T A BIG FAN of Chloe and her attitude. Yes, I realize she has a bad past. She’s a rebel and all that. But she’s pushy, selfish, and doesn’t listen. I know that’s who she is, and the writer’s did a good job getting that across, but it did become grating after awhile. I have to admit that I cheered and laughed hysterically when she kept shooting herself in the junk yard. Classic! I felt like it was a kind of redemption for having to listen to her incessant whining.  But truthfully, it makes her character arc and the end of chapter 5 all the more powerful because of it.

ON A SIDE NOTE I’ve had people close to me that acted the same way. Selfish. Pushy. People I tried to help in the past, but turned around and blamed me for their mistakes. It’s tiring man, and it may also be one of the reasons why Chloe got under my skin. I felt for Max and her situation, and there are some people that don’t want help, they just want what they can use you for, and then blame you when you stand up and tell them no.

Closing thoughts

I CAN HONESTLY SAY Life is Strange might be one of the most powerful narrative games I’ve ever played. Episode 4 literally messed me up for weeks! It screwed with my emotions in a way I don’t think any game ever has. The story is poignant and the climax of each chapter left a resonating burst of emotion every single time. Life is Strange is a powerful game that isn’t afraid to delve into taboo subjects like death, suicide, rape, drugs –to name just a few– and it’s all the more brilliant for it. It challenges your perspective and ultimately rewards you with a brutally honest story of two friends that will stay with you long after you put the controller down.

I’M REALLY EXCITED to see what Dontnod has in store for Chloe in Before the Storm.  I’m upset that Ashley Burch won’t be reprising her role, but from what I’ve seen in new gameplay footage, the new Voice Actor nails it!

THANK YOU SO MUCH for reading.  Have you played Life is Strange?  What did you think?  Are you excited fro before the Storm?  Let me know your thoughts in the comments below!  As always, keep that imagination kicking!  Please take care all, you all rock.  Cheers!

 

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