Review: Life is Strange
Back in January, DONTNOD and Square Enix released the first episode of Life is Strange into the world- which we really enjoyed. We gave the first episode a proper review, deciding to wait until the entirety of the season was released to give another. I did however list my thoughts after playing through each episode which you can check out below.
Now that Life is Strange has finished up, it’s time to look at the season as a whole to see what worked and what didn’t.
Read on for our full review!
Make sure to check out our reviews/thoughts on the previous episodes
Life is Strange follows the story of Max Caulfield- a seemingly average teen until she discovers that she has the ability to rewind time after a terrible dream about a tornado comes and destroys the town of Arcadia Bay. After being away for years, Max has returned to Arcadia Bay to attend Blackwell Academy, and is faced with many of the same things that any other girl her age may encounter at a school. You have the best friend that you haven’t seen in years, the geeky kid that kinda like likes Max and that Max might kind of like like too, you have the stuck up girl who thinks she’s better than everyone else, and you have your rich, spoiled brat. On the outside it seems like this could simply just be the story about a girl going to school. Then one day, Max sees a girl get shot… and then rewinds time in order to save her.
As fate would have it, the girl she saves is none-other than her friend Chloe Price that she hasn’t seen in years. Their reunion has Max helping Chloe to find her friend Rachel Amber who has gone missing. And just in case that wasn’t enough of a plot, the first episode ends with some very bizarre weather, making Max realize that her dream of the Tornado from earlier might not have been just a dream, but rather a vision of the future. Not wanting to spoil anything further, I’ll just say that from that point players are sent into a wild, heartwarming, and sometimes dark story that becomes increasingly difficult to put down.
There are many types of games out there that have the choices you make affect the outcome of the story. Life is Strange is one such game. However, after playing through the entirety of the season, it ultimately feels like these choices only matter in the short term and don’t have as big of an impact on the ending as I would have thought. However, there’s also the admission that there will never be a game that lets you decide every single thing and has an ending that’s vastly different because you remembered to water a plant or because you played a prank on someone. To have these decisions ultimately have no impact on the ending however, is disappointing.
Those bigger decision moments really made me take a second to think about what I wanted to choose and some of the scenes were quite emotional. At times however, the game would start to take hold of the narrative, telling you how you have to use Max’s powers of time manipulation. Did you just make a decision and after seeing the response, find that you weren’t happy with it? Normally, the game allows you to rewind and pick the other option before continuing on, which is great for this type of game where people often do multiple playthroughs in order to see the immediate reactions of each choice. However, the rewinding ability became slightly irritating when it’s something that myself as a player had no control over. Sometimes, just as soon as I had made a choice, the game did something to reverse it or change it. On the opposite end, when there were some large events that happened that I wanted to be able to use Max’s powers to go back and change, the story conveniently put me into a state where I couldn’t use her powers. Sadly, where the game grabs hold of the steering wheel the most is in the final episode, and it feels more like it’s guiding you to the conclusion of a story that the game’s creators have made instead of the ending to a story that you have made.
If the game taking hold and forcing your hand or reversing your decisions wasn’t bad enough, out of the two possible endings for the game, only one actually feels like it’s actually the “right” ending because the scene feels so much more thought out and complete than the other option.
All that having been said though, the choices that the player is able to make are enough to warrant going back and trying out different combinations of choices to see how some of the other events unfold in the short term before the story seemingly throws them aside for its conclusion.
Something that I want to make sure to also mention is the amazing soundtrack that has been assembled for Life is Strange. In fact, it’s something the developers are so proud of that an earlier press release handed out links to play lists of the songs featured in the game. (Spotify, YouTube) I can’t tell you the number of times I’ve had the urge to load up the playlist and listen to the tracks. They tracks sound great by themselves and wonderfully enhance the scenes they’re used in.
I’ve been a fan of some of Telltales’ games for awhile now (The Walking Dead in particular) and I was excited to see what DONTNOD and Square Enix could bring to the table. What we got was a game in the same story driven genre that people have grown to love with an interesting time mechanic twist. Combine that with a wide cast of characters, the mysterious disappearance of Rachel Amber, and what seems to be an impossible series of weather related events and you get something that pulls you in and leaves you wanting more.
While the game gives the player numerous choices to make, its biggest detriment is that it ends up pushing all of them aside for its conclusion. That having been said, the story in Life is Strange is still one that everyone should make time to experience.
~ Final Score: 9/10 ~
Review copy provided by Square Enix for XB1. Screenshots provided by Square Enix.