Review: Life is Strange
After the mixed reviews of Remember Me, french developers DONTNOD were set free from Capcom’s grasps, and after a big year of uncertainty over the future of the studio, they finally announced Life is Strange, an episodic adventure game set to be published by Square Enix. A first for the developer as well as for the publisher, which capitalize on the growth of indie productions, adopting a cinematic and narrative perspective on adolescence and some really deep sociological topics. If you want to learn more about Episodic games, then you can read my feature right here as well.
With this title, we bid farewell to the futuristic Parisian metropolis, as Life is Strange is set in the heart of the small rural town called Arcadia Bay on the coast of Oregon in the USA. You embody Maxine, a young woman who just returned from Seattle to continue her studies in photography. This rehabilitation will not be so simple, troubled by the tragic reunion with Chloe, her ex-best friend, followed by the awakening of a double-edged power that will allow Max to rewind time and save this girl with blue hair.
If this wasn’t enough for a teenager, Maxine will witness a gigantic tornado in her dreams that is ready to swallow the town as a whole, as well as learning about the unexplained disappearance of a certain Rachel known by all the inhabitants of the city, which is encrusted in a warm and familiar universe for any cinephile. There’s a sort of link with Twin Peaks, the “Sundance favorite”, and the accents of Take Shelter in the first thirty minutes of the game, which I believe is what DONTNOD wanted and it works pretty well if you are sensitive to these different visions of the world, as well as stories dealing with the transition of teenagers to adult life in general.
Bluntly inspired by the “realistic” adventure games and filled with contextual actions popularized by Quantic Dream and Telltale Games, DONTNOD offers direct control of Max and her point view, coupled with four pre-established actions. However, in comparison to other games, the use of QTE and other timed decisions is quite rare, at least in the first chapter named Chrysalis. We could even say that the notion of challenge is absent, since the majority of trials are reversible with rewinding time, and it is enough to quickly inspect the scenery for the solution to the few “puzzles” blocking the progression. Nevertheless there’s optional elements where the heroine can do multiple “sidequests” bringing some background and credibility to the universe, even if the people in charge of writing were relatively heavy handed which contrasts with the overall quality of the dialogue, far more natural than Remember Me. Conversely, interior monologues are more uneven and sometimes unnecessarily descriptive, especially in the dream scenes that are at the heart of the storyline.
The developers built its story based on your attachment to the fate of Life is Strange’s protagonists and the decisions you take, since you have the opportunity to return in time to repick important choices – clearly identified – to test their short-term implications. In class with your teacher, you will be lectured because you don’t know the answer to a question asked, which will then force you to use the rewind button and check for the response in your book, which will add it to your dialogue wheel, and avoid passing for inattentive student. In other cases, we can retrieve an important item before it falls in a pool of oil. That does not prevent some quirks. Once past in a new “zone”, all your choices will be recorded in the game, and will have more or less happy consequences for the rest of the episode and the following one, under the rule of the butterfly effect shown very literally in the introductory episode.
It is still too early to judge the impact of this system, presented as an evolution of Memory Remix crossed in DONTNOD first game, but I can tell you that the full game will have more than one purpose and some small narrative changes related to characters, whether you decide to help them or not, will affect your adventure on the long run. As it was the case in the two seasons of The Walking Dead, the main story is still expected to remain fairly linear, with a hint of consideration in human relationships.
If one wants to know what really happened, it is mainly thanks to the prospects of developing the main and secondary characters, crossing fingers that some go beyond the stage of cliché relationships. Explanations of the powers and apocalyptic visions of Max arouse your curiosity in this intimate universe, depicted with a kind of sweetness that is also reflected in the graphical style of the game, with a sort of cell-shading coloring techniques on rounded models. Animations are however a bit sketchy, especially when it comes to the faces which we often see up close, and it is not rare that we come across some long loading times or small technical flaws in transitions phases, but the whole is much more fluid and stable than Telltale’s games. As for the soundtrack, composed largely by the Leader of Syd Matters and supplemented by other artists in a “rock & folk” genre, it fits perfectly with this cocoon atmosphere which is about to crack to and be transformed throughout the five episodes.
Life is Strange is undoubtedly a heartfelt narrative experience.
However, do not get us wrong, most choices in Strange Life are not as important as the developer wants you to believe. And if some of them will keep you playing for hours, their consequences are in the end a bit cosmetic, purely related to your perception of adventure and what would you have done instead, without significantly changing the story. It I would to compare it, there’s no real branches to the story such as Heavy Rain and Until Dawn, but it’s mainly an adventure that allows you “customize” your choice, and will remind you of your decisions in the end. In this regard, note that it is possible to compare at the end of each episode to see if your decisions were the same to the majority of players, which is always nice to see.
Life is Strange is undoubtedly a heartfelt narrative experience. If the game sometimes sacrifices some gameplay and technical traits, its writing, atmosphere, soundtrack and storyline makes it memorable.
Life is Strange was reviewed using an Xbox One redeemable code of the full season provided by Square Enix. The game is also available to buy in single episodes, on all major platforms including Xbox 360, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4 and PC in both retail and online store releases. In order to better cover this episodic games, the writer prefered to test each episode to give a full note to the full season. We don’t discuss review scores with publishers or developers prior to the review being published.
• Alluring artistic direction.
• The choices you make in the game.
• An immense range of characters.
• Great soundtrack.
• Animations can sometimes be poor
• A rather uneven writing
• Characters can be sometimes too caricatured
• Slight narrative inconsistencies