There have been so many games from companies with the likes of Telltale Game releasing episodic adventures that are meant to be enjoyed like a playable Tv series. Life Is Strange (LIS) is a game from a French developer Dontnod Entertainment which follows the same episodic format. Will this be the game that revolutionise the format? Will it be a hidden gem among the crops? Or will it be just yet another similar game that fails to stand out? We will be looking to answer these questions as we continue below!
This review covers Ep 1 – 5, not as an individual review but as a whole complete game.
(this review is written with excessive care to avoid revealing spoilers, but some minor spoilers may still appear in order to review this game fully)
It is based on the theme of Chaos Theory and the inclusion of Time Travel. Basically, a girl named Maxine Caufield( we will use her nickname Max as she prefers in-game) discovered her ability to rewind time upon witnessing a murder of her friend. Using this awesome power, she tries to rewind and alter time in order to save the people that she cared about. Unknown to her, there are consequences for each change that she made to the timeline. Additionally, she has to solve and uncover mysteries of a missing friend which might be related to the origin of her power.
I must say that the starting Ep 1 starts off slow but interesting. You begin in a typical American Classroom in Blackwell Academy, which is located in Arcadia Bay and begin to learn about the characters and places through walking around and interacting with the NPCs. It is not an open world though, and you will not be able to go anywhere aside from the intended coverable location. The usage of a school makes it interesting and simple to include as many small details or information as possible; it makes a good starting location to introduce us to Max’s world and to understand her social status in it.
From ep 2 – 5, we are introduced to more settings that take us around Arcadia Bay itself and also some surreal places which I won’t spoil. The time travel aspect has allowed Max to go to the past, present, and future of the same locations, making the settings more varied even though it’s the same place you have visited. This is a smart move by the developer in recycling assets and presenting them in interesting ways to advance the story. The locations are varied and look different with each being a significant setting in the part of the story and gameplay.
The game, in my opinion, provided me with a good opening and also realistic ending, of which I won’t spoil.
Time travel is the main concept of the game and it is shown exemplarily in the gameplay. Immediately in the first few minutes of playing the first episode, you are introduced to this concept and it can be done by pressing and holding a designated button on the keyboard or gamepad(which I used for the playthrough). This will rewind the time and other characters will be moving back in time except you. The only things that stayed the same are yourself and the object that has been moved or collected by you in inventory.
This present a new way to solve certain puzzles or side-quest as in one example, you can blow up a locked door and cause alarm to sound, then you got into the room and rewind time back to just before the door is blown and you unlock the door from the inside. Yeah, this is a pretty original time-travel aspect which is rarely shown in movies or books. Max’s time travel is also limited in the sense that after an important decision has been made, you can not travel back to make the other decision again until you replay the game from the start. This is a compelling limitation that actually brings out Max’s character as she realises she is not almighty. There is a point where she lost her power at a crucial time and the choices you chose can’t be rewind, so each step has to be taken with great care.
The game is filled with grey choices which WILL do good and bad in both short-term and long-term. They are remembered at the end of each episode and the consequences will be transferred to subsequent episodes, leading to different paths and even affecting the life of certain characters. This is true for some dialogue choices with NPCs as well, which will lead to how they respond to you in the future, and wrong ones can be fatal or lead to loss of sources for help or clues.
If the player spends more time interacting with the world and the characters, there are some Achievements that can be achieved by taking pictures or being taken a picture in certain parts of the game, but some are hidden in the dialogue decisions. The puzzles presented are often hidden in plain sight and you will need to concentrate and think logically in order to solve some of them. Other side-quest involve saving a certain friend in each episode from minor problem (this is a reference to the photography contest Everyday Heroes indeed)
Lastly, you can open Max’s journal and reads through the events that have happened and also to check out on her SMS, which will receive messages from her friends, parents and some other characters along the way which adds more subtle drama/story/humour while some provides a very clues on directions to take. This is a good modern infusion that tells a story in a very ordinary way in our smartphone era.
There are many characters that are present throughout the game but the ones that are fleshed out the most are Max and Chloe. I will also be adding other characters below.
Ep 1 – 5 are about Chloe and Max at its core, period. This is the story of friendship, love, decisions, and sacrifice. Max is shown at first to be an introvert, a nerd girl who dresses plainly and loves to take pictures and reads books. Ep 1 brings this character to the fullest when we are brought to Max’s dorm and we saw her room is not filled with much typical girly stuff, instead, there are many photographs and books on art and photography. If you used her laptop in the room, you will see pages of Camera website etc that tells us subtly her passion and love for photography. Even other characters’ conversations reinforce this idea on Max’s introvert character that they challenge her to tell them their full name. The game does a great job of making Max one of the most normal girl you have seen in video games.
Along the way, through Max’s conversation text messages, which involve puns, slangs and other acronyms that are popular in the real world, I felt that she is real in her personality and you grew onto her and like her slowly. Then, you will start seeing changes in her as you play subsequent episodes. Max will be going through many shits and trials which made her grow up and be more mature. She started to gain the courage to change things and people. She learnt to make hard choices to help her loved ones. She made sure that her best friend stayed unharmed and is willing to sacrifice her health(time travel is a huge strain on her body) for her safety. In the end, she grows up to be someone different compared to her old self, and yet she still retains the passion and personality that only Max has.
Chloe, on the other hand, is shown to be a friend who has lost all hope when she lost her father and her best friend. We are brought to witness to her rebellious nature at life’s torment. She acts and talks tough, but deep inside she’s hurt and needed help. From her smiles and jokes you can sense her loneliness and when we keep discovering her stories deeper, you started to realise that she is just like someone who is suicidal. Her character is fully fleshed out in these 5 episodes as she tried to accomplish her task of finding a friend, letting us see both sides of her. Chloe is also presented in the past, present, and alternate present due to the time travel aspect. In all three of them, you can see the great difference in personality. This game tells us how life’s happening can change a bright and smiling innocent girl becoming rebellious and then become someone who lost her core happiness in the other timeline.
There are other characters which are shown to impact the stories in some way though they are not fully fleshed out in character, with perhaps exception to Kate and Warren. Kate is a bullied girl and Warren is the normal nerd teenager who takes a liking to Max. In the former, you will be interacting with her a lot and will make a huge impact on her life depending on your actions and dialogue choices, which either harm her or saves her but the choices are very grey. Kate is a reflection of Max in a certain way, this is just my opinion and I won’t reveal further to avoid spoilers, but you will discover their similarities metaphorically. Warren is a reflection of Max as well, but in the other way, which is also just my opinion. It’s quite interesting how all these characters are interlinked to one another and are fleshed out as much as possible in these 5 episodes. One aspect I’m very impressed with the characters is the way their personality seemed real and not created anyhow just for the sake of the story.
The graphics are beautiful with a certain unique style. Dontnod Entertainment has not chosen the cel-shaded style and yet it is not a fully realistic style as well. If I have to describe it, it would be like a semi-high polygon model that seems to be made of beautiful mud and with awesome light effects. It’s just looking something like 2.5d painting in a sense albeit it’s actually fully 3D. Perhaps it’s due to lower budget that they did not go down the high-resolution model looks or perhaps it’s an art direction, of which I absolutely love it! The characters’ expressions are animated well, except for some lip-synching issues, and are pretty detailed. There are some parts that seem hand-drawn artistically. Lens flares and bright sun rays are rendered marvelously in this game and really sets the mood for the atmosphere and the settings.
The music is mostly simple with guitars, some piano and mostly using nature sounds as you travel around Arcadia Bay. There are not lots of varied soundtracks in this game but the primary ones fit the mood and, when appropriate, add tension and emotion to the scenes. Though it has limited soundtracks, each of them has an impact while playing the game and in this case, less is more.
StoryGameplayGraphicCharactersMusicWhat's good?A greatly directed and paced talesTime travel mechanic is implemented naturally and is the core part of gameplay and the narrativeCharacters interactions feel real and most of them are unique in personalitiesGraphics are special and immediately define the game itselfMusics are simple yet are able to accentuate the playing experience tremendouslySome scenes make me drop a tear or twoWhat's bad?You need to buy all 5 episodes, but sometimes there's a bundle for thatTime travel mechanic is not 100% logical4.5Holy!A tremendous game that plays with your heart emotionsLife Is Strange works by doing less for more, and it succeeded in applying the Time Travel mechanic seamlessly into the gameplay and story. I heavily recommend this game if you want to experience a great story, unique Time Travel mechanic, beautiful graphics and loveable and relatable characters. Though I encountered some issues like loss of audio in cutscenes or in-game, a restart of the game will normally fix them and you will be able to continue from the last save, which normally continues from the point when you restart the game. This game won awards for a reason, and it's a great reason indeed.