- Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
- Publisher: Square-Enix
- Platform: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
- Release Date: 30 January 2015(Ep.1)-20 October 2015(Ep.5)
- MSRP: $19.99
Life is Strange is a graphic adventure game that follows Max Caulfield, a teenage girl with the power to reverse time. I don’t want to get into spoiler territory with this game as you will want to experience the story for yourself. Being a graphic adventure game, the story is the reason you play it. Think of it like those point and click PC games from the 90s. Life is Strange was developed by Dontnod Entertainment and published by Square-Enix in 2015. The game was released episodically. One of the few games the episodic format works for. It felt like a tv show.
Life is Strange was a rollercoaster of emotions. Max Caulfield has been having strange dreams in which the town of Arcadia Bay is destroyed by a giant twister. She must somehow make sense of this as her unique power develops. The story plays out in what may seem like a non-stop cutscene. Or another way of looking at would be like if Mass Effect was only the dialogue parts. You chose an action for Max to take and the consequences play out. Each choice will influence later plot developments. Certain choices will make things easier or harder, depending on the decision. The time reversal feature will help you make these decisions. The consequences are felt. These choices make an impact on your experience.
You can’t have a story driven game without characters that draw you in. Max is a protagonist that is easy to identify with. She’s a nerdy hipster who likes photography. She’s quiet and observant. Max’s life is turned upside down when she finds out she can reverse time. She uses this power to help those around her. But doing this has consequences later when certain events play out. You feel what she goes through. Max goes through many horrific events. She may be able to reverse them, but she must witness friends dying or getting injured repeatedly. The other main character is Chloe. She is Max’s childhood friend who she reconnects with after living in Seattle for five years. Chloe will be the bane of your existence. You will have to bail her out more times than I can count. She is impulsive and gets herself in trouble all the time. Despite her difficult personality, I found myself caring about her. Max and Chloe felt like close friends. The rest of the cast could be described as tropey. You have the mean popular girls, the jocks, the nerds, the stoners, and many other teen movie tropes. The secondary characters did enough to add to the immersion of the setting. The villain is revealed later in the game and it was somewhat disappointing. He is cartoonishly evil and two faced.
The setting was a small town somewhere on the coast of Oregon. The game didn’t have the best graphics but portrayed the Pacific Northwest accurately and beautifully. It made me want to move to Arcadia Bay (even if it isn’t real). It captures the beauty of autumn and provides excellent atmosphere.
The story had me enthralled from start to finish. I needed to keep playing, I need to know what happened next. Life is Strange is told in five episodes. Each one playing out like an episode for a tv series, including recaps! I was completely immersed in the story. Each choice was nerve wracking. Watching the results play out was exhilarating and sometimes heartbreaking. Who am I kidding? Almost everything was heartbreaking. When I reached the end, I was left with a feeling of sadness. So many ups and downs. The tragic aspects wouldn’t matter if the characters only suffer hardships. The people at Dontnod understand that you can’t have tragedy without glimmers of happiness being shown. This is something many developers (and Hollywood) don’t seem to get. If your character is only shown as miserable, the tragedies will have negligible impact. He or she was already miserable to begin with. How exactly did anything change? Seeing Max and Chloe having fun and having moments with each other, you become intimately familiar with the characters. When tragedy strikes, it will pack more punch. These moments will make your final choice all the more harder. That is all I will say on that topic. Don’t want to get into spoiler territory.
The soundtrack of Life is Strange is outstanding. Maybe that’s because of my taste in music. It was an excellent choice to use mostly acoustic indie music. There is a mix of the original soundtrack and licensed songs. They use songs by bands like Mogwai and Bright Eyes. All music I love.
With all the praise I’ve heaped upon this game it must be perfect, right? Unfortunately, it has noticeable flaws I can’t simply ignore. It has some technical shortcomings that may be distracting. I experienced stuttering when changing scenes on several occasions. The lip-synching ranges from passable to downright atrocious. Sometimes characters speak without even opening their mouths. The voice acting is solid for the most part. I can’t say the same for the dialogue writing. Clearly, these are Frenchmen trying to replicate what they think American teenage girls talk like. Some of it can be cringey. Max’s catchphrase is “wowser.” I think that speaks for itself. For me, these flaws didn’t hurt my overall experience too much. Just some minor annoyances. Also, some may not like the final outcome. Some may feel the ending undid many of the choices made. I would disagree with that. No matter the end, the journey to get there cannot be undone. Your choice will come with emotional baggage.
Playing Life is Strange was one of the most emotional experiences I’ve had with games. It gave me a nostalgic feeling. Like reconnecting with an old friend. Getting to be a teenager again. As you get older, you realize that time keeps slipping away. You can’t just reverse time. Max may have had this gift, but did it change things for the better? Perhaps time is not something anyone should mess with. Either way, Life is Strange will take you on a journey. It will make you think about life and where it will bring us next. I was left with a pit in my stomach, a bittersweet feeling. As a graphic adventure game, it succeeds in engrossing the player in the story. This review may seem vague, but this game needs to be experienced without spoilers. Go and play it, unless you don’t like these types games.