Review: Life is Strange – Episode 1

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When I first heard of of DONTNOD and Square Enix’s new game Life is Strange, my mind immediately jumped to “oh so it plays like those Telltale games? I could maybe get into that”.

What I ended up getting into, was something even greater than the Telltale series’ that I have come to enjoy.

Story

In Life is Strange, you assume the role of Max Caulfield, a student with an eye for photography attending Blackwell Academy. Max starts out in a bizarre nightmare landscape, complete with a giant tornado and a damaged lighthouse only awaking to find herself in the middle of a lecture during a photography class. From here, the sequence plays out much like a typical high school class room- some in the class are picking on a girl, you have your rich snobby girl who knows all the answers because she’s got a thing for the teacher, and after the class ends is where DONTNOD inserts something that isn’t usually a part of these types of stories. After an incident where Max sees someone get shot, she discovers that she can rewind time.

The story itself is intriguing with several questions arising by the end of the episode. However, throughout the first episode, some of the character’s dialogue doesn’t always feel consistent. The use of words like “hella” or the frequency at which the characters say they’re “tripping” seems odd and can take me out of the moment. Then again, I’m certainly not a teenager anymore, maybe that’s how all these crazy kids talk these days? On another note is the use of swearing by the characters. To go from Max discovering her new found powers with a “what the fuck…” and then use a phrase like “oh my lord” doesn’t seem right. The later is usually something that someone says when they don’t swear. If DONTNOD was going to open up the can of F bombs, they might as well just go for it.

Gameplay

The game eases you in, giving you a tutorial on walking through the games nightmarish first environment, then moving you into a class room where you’re able to interact with objects for the first time. Being near an item will highlight it with an almost sketchbook like appearance, letting you know that you can interact with it- and there are a lot of things that you can interact with in Life is Strange. During the first episode I found myself wandering around, able to inspect many of the various photos, posters and objects found in the environment. During the games title sequence where you walk down the hallway, you can take the time and actually get some information about all of the characters as you walk past them, giving you a good idea of who they are. All of these options fit right in with Max who, from what we can gather, has always been a bit nosy.

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While having a large amount of objects that you can inspect is great in a game like this, the thing that makes it truly unique is being able to rewind time. In similar games where your choices can influence the outcome of the story, you make a choice and have to live with it through the duration of that episode. If you don’t like it, you start up a second play through and just do everything differently to see what happens. In Life is Strange the ability to rewind time gives you the chance to see some of these outcomes in the short term without having to go back and start a whole save file. In fact, Max will react to these bigger decisions right away making comments that will make the player second guess their actions and allow them to rewind and change their choice if they want. If you go back and select a different option that comes off to you as being worse than your original selection you can still rewind and pick what your originally decided.

Even though you have the ability to go back and change your choices, there’s a pretty good chance that players will want to experiment with these choices on multiple play throughs to see how the story changes. As you play Life is Strange, there are many parts throughout where you’ll stumble upon scenes that you can photograph for your collection. In fact, there are a set number of photographs in episode 1, each awarding you with an achievement/trophy for finding them. If you missed one the first time through, you can go back during your alternate choice play through and see if you can spot them. If you don’t want to go through and replay the whole game again, you can choose to go through each section of the episode in collectible mode. In this mode, the choices that you make while you play won’t apply to that game’s save, however any of the photographs that you find will.

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What we’re left with at the end of episode one are some great questions about the mysteries of the storyline and a great deal of promise for what’s to come. Those that have played similar games such as the ones from Telltale should know that mechanically, Life is Strange surpasses them in every way. The only drawback with the first of the five episodes is some of the writing which may or may not improve as we dive deeper into the future episodes. If you’re a fan of this story telling genre, Life is Strange is a must play!

Life is Strange Episode 1 is available now on PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360,  Xbox One, and PC. Episode 2 is set to release sometime in March.

Square Enix provided us with a copy of this game (Xbox One) for review purposes.