Life is Strange is a emotional rollercoaster from start to finish. In five acts, developers DONTNOD manage to craft a truly engaging episodic narrative causing anxiety and anticipation with each successive release.
Life is Strange
Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment
Price: 19.99 USD
Platform: PS4 (Reviewed), PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PC
Each episode left a memorable impression, the later ones more so. It’s been far too long since a video game resonated with me emotionally and Life is Strange hits on the cultural touchstones that feel close to home. If you’re looking for a game that tackles mature themes such as friendship, losing loved ones, depression, bullying and the coming of age all wrapped up in the supernatural, time traveling context; this is the one to check out. Similar to other adventure games of this genre, the strength of its story becomes a vital part in determining the value of the playthrough. As such, the storytelling in each episode felt methodical, cresting in moments where it mattered the most and letting the air out in at times to soak in the atmosphere. Best described as an emotional balloon, the story constantly expands until reaching its bursting point in the final episode.
Central to the theme of Life is Strange is the long standing friendship between Max Caulfield and Chloe Price. Chloe has been through rough times as losing her father, William, in adolescence affected her greatly. Her childhood best friend Max, a shy introverted teenager, returns to Arcadia Bay to attend the prestigious Blackwall Academy. Life is Strange centers around Max and in playing as her, I learned that she wasn’t the popular kid in school. That’s evident in her internal monologue and interactions which develop over the course of the season. In a moment of serendipity, Max and Chloe rekindle their childhood and the episodes follow their escapades and ultimately testing their resolve and commitment to one another. The mystery behind Rachel Amber’s disappearance leads the duo into their own investigation and of course, the people of Arcadia Bay.
Surrounding the two are a whole host of supporting characters whom Max interacts with and more often than not, have a meaningful impact to Max and the player. Max’s curiosity fits into the detective mindset well and coupled with the ability to rewind time in multiple choice conversations, allows her to have an advantage over the situation. The choices stem from the mundane to the ‘I can’t believe I just did that.’ Each action causes a reaction and whether minor or major, the consequences are impactful. Up until this point, I’ve never felt more unnerved in my decision making. A gut punch is an apt description of my feelings.
From my review of first episode, I mentioned that rewinding actions lessens the impact of each choice. Over the course of the season, I realized the importance of going back and viewing alternatives as an important part of my decision making. I’d often rewind to get the full picture and chose the outcome that best reflected my conscience. Rewind only works with the current scene; it serves to flesh out the story, particularly in developing Life is Strange’s archetypical characters. Time travel plays a role in all of this but its most poignant take away occurs when rewind and more so choice is removed from the equation in certain scenes, leaving the audience with a reminder of who is really in control.
The music and washed aesthetic look also create a convincing setting, layering with the narrative in an effective manner. In the environment, there are several supernatural cues in the world of Arcadia Bay that made me do a double take, at times blurring the lines between the real and surreal. The harrowing image of birds smacking glass windows, or the sheer amount of eco-disaster left me with an eerie, haunting feeling. At times, the naturalist take of the idyllic days of yesteryear reinforce the teenage nostalgia but as the story develops, Life is Strange skillfully ventures into the creepier happenings of the world.
The Final Word
Life is Strange isn’t perfect but it’s that imperfection that characterizes the whole experience. A refreshing take in the adventure game genre, there is a lot to appreciate in DONTNOD’s handling of mature themes and emotional gravitas. In its finality, the journey is well worth experiencing.
– MonsterVine Rating: 5 out of 5 – Excellent