***THE FOLLOWING MIGHT CONTAIN SPOILERS***
Dontnod Entertainment’s first project, Remember Me, was a very ambitious third person adventure game that I thought was a fine project. There was a ton that they wanted to accomplish narratively, but it all got so convoluted that it left players scratching their heads. Life is Strange, however, fixes that issue. The five episodes tell a tale that many of us know too well; the overwhelming anxiety and stress of high school. Teenagers always feeling like they need to fit in, climbing their way to the top of the popularity tower, and partying to feel like part of the pact. The game pulled at my heart strings at times. While it is a well written game, it does stumble across some glaring issues that just make the whole experience, for me, a tedious affair.
Players follow Max, a student at Blackwell Academy pursuing a career in photography. Max finds out, through a dramatic event, that she can rewind time. You also reunite with former best friend, Chloe. The two are submerged into a murder mystery, as well as facing personal nightmares and dealing with everyday life. Throughout all the episodes, you will rewind events to change the outcome of your dilemmas. You might make people forget you had an intrusive conversation, and maybe even save lives. This mechanic annoyed me a lot during my play through. The one thing I love about playing these types of games is that I must live with the choices I made. It’s not a book where I can go back to the page I just was so I don’t go down the dungeon. These choices have often hurt me because of how emotional a choice can be. Life is Strange is a game for those who don’t enjoy that pain, and want to try again. The game doesn’t allow you to rewind every major moment, but when it does, it takes out the consequence of your actions. For example, the first time I was given two big options, I watched both play out. After seeing both, it annoyed me how I know of both paths. I played the rest of the game not rewinding huge moments like this.
No matter how you play it, the game is well written and the pace is just right. Max and Chloe’s chemistry is genuine. Their dialogue is always true to the character, while their situations are interesting to play out. A lot of information about these two can be found with plenty of items in the world that gives you more backstory to them. Max’s cluttered dorm room has plenty to show what kind of person she is, just like Chloe’s punk rock room reveals more to her than just her angst. Secondary characters are hit and misses. While I enjoy the Warren and Nathan, others felt too generic. I will say that I did not see the big twist for one character coming at the end of Episode four, AND YOU KNOW WHO I AM TALKING ABOUT. Elements of the story do feel repetitive, specifically the loner being mixed in really awful classmates. I really enjoy the mystery and other subplots, but I hope that future stories, no matter in games or not, can steer clear of the sinister high school students. The issue of school bullying can feel so on-the-nose that it doesn’t come off as smart but rather too simple.
The many decisions you must make with these characters and for Max are varied enough so they’re not all rinse-dry-repeat. The moments where you must make tense decisions are life or death, and some of them really sting. Can you help a student come off the roof that they want to jump from? Can you defuse a violent situation? These moments are directed with care, and the results are emotional. When you’re not making these big decisions, Life is Strange gives you freedom to wander around your environment. Many of these times have objectives, and these can be very tedious to get through. It’s always good to slow down the story so the player can take time to develop a relationship with the characters, but there’s so many times I was sick and tired of collecting random objects for people. Fortunately, puzzles that you need to solve are enough of a challenge to make you think. It will be annoying to rewind again and again, but it needs to be done. These levels also show how pretty the game looks. The hand-painted textures on the environment and characters are very well done. Character’s designs are also great. The animations could have used more polish. There are many wooden performances through all five episodes, but Max and Chloe usually look good for their performances.
As a whole, Life is Strange is a mixed bag. The idea of rewinding your past is interesting to pair up with teenagers who always want to change their life, but it just doesn’t bode well in a game. If I chose to rewind decisions just to see what was to happen, I feel like I would be less willing to come back again to choose differently. The consequences that may keep a player up at night because they might’ve made the wrong choice is never felt here. Individually, the first two episodes range from super mediocre to solid. The next three are quite good, and though the end didn’t leave me wanting more, I felt satisfied with the decisions I made. With a sequel on the horizon, I don’t know if I really need more Life is Strange. This time, players will be able to play as Chloe. Only time will tell if it can improve on the original.
Score: 6 out of 10
- Great visuals
- Emotional decisions will shock you sometimes
- Twist at the end of Episode four is both unexpected and shocking
- Max and Chloe
- Rewinding events leaves no room for players to feel the real consequence
- Story elements aren’t as interesting as others
- Tedious level design
- A super slow start