From the moment I saw the artistic style in the previews for Life is Strange, the 2015 hit graphic adventure game from Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix, I was drawn in to what the game could offer on the basis of design. When I got around to playing the game myself, I found a new type of strategy game setup mixed with aspects of morality-factor games I enjoy. On top of this was lovely frosting of a colorful, fleshed-out world with an engaging plot. Let’s get into the key features of this lovingly-crafted work.
The Protagonist: Maxine “Max” Caulfield, a withdrawn, nerdy photography student, is one day struck with the power to turn back time a small amount, upon the day of her reunion with her childhood best friend, Chloe Price. Max is given her very neutral, reserved nature so the player’s choices can help determine how she develops through out the game. Despite her moments of nerdy pretentiousness that some players may find annoying or unnecessary, Max’s concern for the world around her is endearing.
The World: While limited, the 2013 setting of the small Oregon town of Arcadia Bay and the vocational high school Blackwell Academy is very vivid and full of life. There’s hardly an empty site or moment in each environment of these locations. Every passing NPC you interact with has their own unique sliver of background and personality.
Character Writing: As mentioned before, even minor characters have their own roundness to their writing. The students of Blackwell fight and gossip realistically, each having their own degree of grit or softness. Max, despite her flexibility for actions, has her own diverse set of opinions that are voiced in her interactions with other NPCs, as does our main supporting character, Chloe, acting as the storm to Max’s calm. The other supporting characters have opinions that the player must make choices around as well, and it often times can factor how the plot plays out.
Thoughts on Writing
My only complaint for the writing is despite having the right attitude for 2013 teenagers, their choice of words can often feel like a forced, cheesy attempt at modern teenage slang and vulgarities, and it’s very off-putting for players such as me who are well-versed in teen lingo of that time. Often times, characters will resist your choices, and it can be frustrating to try and micro-manage their feelings while trying to move through the story, but that’s part of what makes the game unique; sometimes the little things you have to toy with change the experience with the story. Overall, the detail and complexity of the environments and characters makes it feel like you’re really getting to know the places and people, and it gives you a sense being in that world itself. That itself is a strong appeal point for the game, which can hold players in if they’re not enjoying the simple gameplay mechanics.
Difficulty: All the strategy in Life is Strange is mostly dependent on player choice and observation of environments. Just about any player of any skill can play LiS, as it is very similar to point-and-click adventure set ups, in the sense that progression occurs based on simply choosing to interact with something or leaving it alone, or picking one thing over another.
Making Choices: As mentioned before, the game’s progression, environment, and NPC change based on the actions you take. Comfort someone to help them out of a possible later drastic state, ask a question that gives you an answer you’ll need later, take an object from one place to another to help resolve a fight. Sometimes you are given definitive choices you can’t back out of once you pick them and move to the next environment, and they’ll permanently change something major in the game.
Rewinding Time: The whole game and plot revolves around this power mechanic. Max is able rewind time a select amount. This can be used to manipulate NPC conversation outcomes, prevent events from happening, getting yourself out situations you shouldn’t be in, undoing choices, or gathering information you could’ve needed before rewinding. Despite being able to undo most choices, there’s points where you can’t turn back. After most major choices, you can rewind to undo them, but once you leave the environment you’re in, you can’t take it back. There’s also the simple matter of the rewind’s span. Spending too much time doing something else after performing an action often results in that action simply being too far back in time to rewind to.
Exploration: Observing the ever-interesting world of Blackwell and Arcadia Bay can serve as a game-changer. You can learn more about the characters you meet or find something useful for later use. Some of these exploratory pieces aren’t in plain site and take time to seek out. The things you can find can often serve to influence an NPC in your favor, whether if be finding information a character needs, or discussing something you learned from a character’s belongings to make them happier. Other times, the things you find can serve you alone, whether it’s evidence against a rival or an item that can benefit your interaction with other characters.
Consequences: This game loooves to remind players that almost every action you do has consequences. As seen in the screenshot above, there’s a marker in game for it. There’s some actions in the game where you obviously know it will have some consequential influence, and there’s other times where you’ll do the most minor thing to set off the marker and you’re left befuddled as to what chain of events you might have set off.
Thoughts on Gameplay
In all honesty, the game mechanic setup can either be very satisfactory with it’s sense of control and exploration, or feel very tedious with having too many options of things to pry into things that keep you from the most direct game path. It felt good to play a laid-back game where you have to think critically about chain reactions and the behaviors in the world around you in order to achieve the outcome you want.
If you’re more into story-heavy games, light gameplay that encourages a bit of critical thinking and giving an outlet for your thoughts of how the story plays out, or the “slice of life” story genre, Life is Strange might be just the right game for you.
That’s enough of our surface-level review, and I’d advise stopping here and not reading below the cut if you don’t wish to be spoiled, as the “Bones to Pick” section is not off-limits to spoilers. If this is where you wish to stop, thank you for reading my review! If not, proceed below the cut for a bit of complaining and spoilers.
Life is Strange © Dontnod Entertainment
Screenshots provided by Steam, Dontnod Entertainment Wiki, Square Enix Forums, Kotaku, and Redbubble.
Bones to Pick
Warning: Spoilers Ahead!
The Ending: Now, I know this game is more about bending a story to your will, and that the final choice had to do with the whole repeating subject of impermanence, but it still feels pointless if the final choice to pick your ending throws just about every past choice you make to the wind. Just about everyone who played the game entirely was off-put about this, but I feel like if the game had at least alluded to it a bit more, there would’ve been somewhat less of a let-down.
Logic Bending: Life is Strange likes to bend it’s own rules and common sense a lot. The game, once it hands you the rewind power, makes it known that Max doesn’t move when she rewinds. It breaks this rule several times, and even has her move in the first scene where she rewinds and wakes up in class again. There’s also few nitpicky cases of the game tossing out common sense to encourage you to go explore more, which all games have, but Life is Strange kind of pushes it with some of these. For example: Dana getting locked in her boarding room from the outside and Chloe conveniently realizing from Max’s butterfly photo that she was in the Blackwell bathroom with her earlier, despite there nothing iconic to the bathroom in the photo and no indicator she took it at that time.