Life Is Strange is a game I had heard of…more than once. I can’t tell you the number of time I’d be talking to friends about my great experiences with The Wolf Among Us, or the emotional weight of The Walking Dead, or the timeless humor of Sam & Max – and be rudely interrupted by mention of this ‘legendary’ episodic adventure from Dontnod Entertainment. And regardless of how interesting (I thought) my story was, this title would inevitably be brought to the forefront of the conversation.
It was only after watching the Cartridge Club coverage of E3 2017 that, good friend and heir-apparent, itsRocketSauce expressed his excitement about the upcoming entry. Listening to him talk about it – I knew it was something I had to play. And my PS+ subscription recently came through (yet again) with a free copy of Life Is Strange, so I had nothing to lose.
Starting it up, I was immediately intrigued. A towering tornado ripping through the town of Arcadia Bay, and a death-defying trudge up to a light house. Clearly the stakes in this game were more dire than the High School popularity the teenage-drama description led me to belief. And the twists didn’t slow down! A short jaunt into the episode and I was already manipulating time. This was gonna be great!
The story follows a Blackwell Academy photography student named Max Caufield. A normal girl by all accounts; shy, introverted, kind-hearted, choosing to share her thoughts with a diary rather than a clique of friends. But beneath that, she’s gifted with an extraordinary ability. After seeing her childhood best-friend Chloe get shot in the school washroom, she discovers a way to rewind time. Not years or months or days, but just several minutes. Naturally Max uses this newfound power to prevent Chloe’s death, but that unravels a chain of events that span 5 episodes; each one guaranteeing out-loud laughs and heart-sinking decisions.
Life Is Strange is a detective-esque style game, and as you play through, the time-travel mechanic is your best friend. Don’t like the response you get after choosing some dialogue? Rewind! Want to laugh out loud again at someone getting smacked in the face with a football (or prevent it..I guess)? Rewind! Forget to clean up your tracks after breaking into the school? Rewind! Social maniupulation at its finest – a power we’ve all wished we had at least once. Yet while this might seem like it would dilute the consequences; you’ll soon realize that everything you’ve done early on, whether mundane choices or dire decisions, may have critical impacts in the later episodes….too late to rewind! This adds an even stronger feeling of regret, and thus, emotional investment. Not only did you make the wrong choice; but you HAD the opportunity to change it, and you didn’t. It’s a feature that really sets this interactive drama aside from others; and allows it to be elevated beyond its sometimes clumsy dialogue or cliche characters.
Enhancing the gameplay mechanics, is the environment itself. The world, modeled after the Pacific Northwest, is fleshed out with beautiful artwork and interactive elements around every corner. There are of course the plot-driven collectibles that you’re forced to find, but more often than not, reading a billboard or opening a drawer or simply sitting on a bench to watch the world pass by are an explorative feature that lets you dive deeper into the mind of Max. It’s very well executed, and had me catching myself at times with the controller down in my lap just watching everyday life unfold around me. And the music compliments it perfectly. Just listen to this track!
Writing about this game without spoilers is easier said than done. And even the experiences I ‘can’ talk about, may have played out entirely different than yours. All I can say is that it’s an emotionally-driven journey of self-discovery that few games have managed to capture. And while exploring the time travel elements are great, the game is at its strongest when diving into those more taboo issues like sexuality, suicide and bullying – issues that perhaps are more relatable to the player.
Overall, I’m chalking this one up to another fantastic recommendation to me from a fellow Cartridge Clubber. Really glad I got to experience it for myself. Thanks Ryan!
Have you guys played this before? Are you looking forward to Before the Storm? What ending did you choose, and why? (use spoiler tags please!). I want to hear all that and more, right here!