Game Reviewed: Life is Strange
Release Date: January 30, 2015
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: Reviewed on PC, Available on Playstation and Xbox systems.
Genre: Graphic Adventure
Life is strange has an interesting premise. A young girl has premonitions of an impending disaster while simultaneously discovering she can reverse time. Sounds awesome right? What could possibly go wrong with that? Well, as it turns out, a lot.
The latest game in the choice-driven adventure genre that boasts popular games like the notably intense The Walking Dead, Life is Strange features pretty much all the awesome parts we like about this type of game.
Graphically, Life is Strange ditches the characteristically cartoonish vibe and opts for something a little more… atmospheric. The shading and lighting together are stunningly beautiful and not a detail detaches from an overall visual composition of a scene.
Stepping into the ladies bathroom, for instance, from a brightly lit hallway gives you all the feelings of stepping into what is, essentially, a closet with toilets. It’s very clear the developers played close attention to making sure environments not only looked, but felt like what they were. Light comes in from appropriate places and shadows are drawn accordingly, leaving you feeling like you are walking through an actual building instead of a game level. This immersive experience greatly adds to the beauty of this game, and trust me, it needs it.
The audio plays a key role in this as well, with each environment comes the familiar and appropriate background noises. That is the great part about this game is that every level is believable, and it’s very hard to be taken out of an environment, even with the time reversal mechanic.
Speaking of the time reversal mechanic, in a game like this where your choices have consequences, it’s a great feature to add. It allows you to go through all the possible outcomes of a situation, and choose the best decision for your play style based on character reactions to your choices.
It also allows you to change character perceptions to your advantage and achieve your tasks faster (relatively) because you’ve probably been through that scenario already.
That all being said, the biggest drawback of this story-driven game is , oddly enough, the story.
Listen, I get it. The game is still brand new. Episode two just released a few days ago at the time of this article. Thus, the game has the potential to improve and get so much better. I get it. Episode one needs to establish the characters, their motives and give you time to get attached, making your decisions that much harder as the series goes on. I get it, but that doesn’t mean it happened for me.
I wasn’t even halfway through episode one before I had to literally force myself and grit my teeth to get through its entirety. Not because the game sucks, but because the story is …well annoying.
Again, great premise, but it’s hard to get attached to the whiney, tongue-in-cheek, artsy-fartsy characters of this school. You have the cliché rich kid who gets his way, the mean girl and her posse, the artsy “shy but misunderstood” main character and the rebel with a troubled past. I mean, could this get more high school musical?
Not only that but the game incorporates or tries to tackle some pretty hardcore subjects from school shootings to date-rape. It’s like playing an interactive Degrassi, but without wheelchair bound Drake! No, we did not start from the bottom and now we are here, we are kinda still at the bottom.
Listen, like I said, I get it. I totally get what this game is trying to portray, but what do you do with a game that is story-driven when the story is lackluster?
It’s still unclear to me whether the game is trying to be tongue in cheek, trying to set the artsy-fartsy annoyance that is most of the characters, or is the developers really believe all the monologue laden cinematic sequences are necessary.
It’s kind of like watching Clerks, where each conversation is either clearly about what it’s about, or some sort of hidden metaphor for whatever the author is trying to get across. Where the characters cease to be characters with individual minds and consciousness, and instead are just outlets for the inner-musings or soapbox rants of the author.
At the end of episode one, episodic games are supposed to leave you begging for the next episode. They are supposed to force you to develop an attachment to every single character you’ve grown to know and like – even with their flaws. Vice versa, they are supposed to make you absolutely despise the antagonists, or characters set up to be against the main character. This game falls short of that so far. It seems less about wanting to guide every character through the events of the game in one piece, and more about picking the persona you like or that closely fits who you think you are and playing the game from there. Maybe that’s a strength in disguise, who knows, the story is still in its early stages with a few more episodes to go.
The good news for Life is Strange, even as I’ve lamented the first episode, is that I can’t help but feel the story will get better and more interesting. The ending of the first episode, after literally wanting to stab myself in the hand with a fork just to feel something, actually got me slightly excited about episode two.
The disaster the game hints – not so subtly – at is looming closer and the main character has to find a way to warn others while simultaneously dealing with the consequences of all the player-driven choices they have made prior. How can you not be excited about that?
Overall, the game is fantastically executed, albeit sometimes drawn-out and boring. I’m curious to see how the story develops and if it gets better along the way, but at the moment it’s a hard sell. Those of you who value the artsy, tongue in cheek, have-way-more-to-say-than-should-be, drop references that most audiences may be too young to understand in the attempt to be edgy and “hipster-ish”, type of entertainment might really enjoy this game. It is incredibly beautiful, detailed and atmospheric. The gameplay mechanics are clean and not at all difficult or cumbersome and the time reversal bit adds a great trick to getting the best outcome for your play style.
Episode two just dropped, so if this game peaked your interest then now would be a good time to check it out. It can only go up from here, right?
Replay Value: 3/5
Overall Rating: 4/5