Game Review: Life is Strange

‘Life is Strange is a five part episodic game that sets out to revolutionise story based choice and consequence games by allowing the player to rewind time and affect the past, present and future.’

– Steam

Max Caulfield is a shy high school student (I can see why they chose that last name) with a quick trigger finger – on her polaroid camera. Through Max’s eyes and viewfinder, you explore the complicated social entanglements and mysteries around her school, and are able to make conscious choices about Max’s actions that affect the course of the game. So far, only Episode 1: Chrysalis can be accessed, with episode 2 coming out some time in March, meaning we’ve yet to see the larger consequences of each choice.

What’s evident already: You’ve got to choose your friends and enemies in this game. Who are you siding with? Are you going to fight against injustice or keep quiet for your own sake?

The story begins with Max dreaming about a huge storm during photography class, and picks up pace with a stray butterfly that Max photographs in the girls’ bathroom. Butterflies and hurricanes – I’m still curious whether those two incidents are connected.

While Max is busy with her butterfly, Nathan Prescott (number one douchebag at Blackwell Academy – but hey, I’ll give him a chance to change my mind) barges into the bathroom, wielding a gun and talking to himself, which gets the ball rolling for Max’s powers to emerge.

Don’t shoot people, Nathan, shoot polaroids.

In many cases, Max’s time travel ability allows you to apply the trial and error method in conversations until you know what the other person wants to hear and until you get what you want from them. In other cases, it’s more subtle, and there is no easy way out. Would you take the blame for a friend, who possibly won’t return the favour?

I took my cues from Max’s photography teacher, who challenges each of his students to hand in a picture for the ‘Everyday Heroes Contest’. Max is all kinds of self-conscious in the beginning, hesitant to hand in anything, snarky only in her head and when she judges other people, but when she makes the right choices, she gradually opens up, goes easier on people and slowly evolves into an everyday hero. She reminded me a bit of Amélie Poulain, observing all the other people around her, meddling with their private lives for better or worse.

Adding to the wonderful narrative of Life Is Strange, the soundtrack by Syd Matters quietly blows you away. Characters move around in beautiful hand painted environments, and the soft light of Autumn seems to weave through every setting, making up for partially mediocre lip-synching and slightly overdone colloquial language that seems at times as if the writers secretly thought: Hey kids, we’re totally hip. Like, you totally talk like this, right?

That being said, it’s stunning how much detail was put into the creation of a believable world. Around school and the girls’ dormitories, you’ll continuously stumble across posters and notes, much in the manner of Gone Home, which the creators seem to have taken some inspiration from.

All in all the first episode amounts to about 3 hours of play time, if you take your time to look at all the bits and pieces and talk to all the people you come across, who might or might not voice their suspicions about Rachel Amber, the girl who’s gone missing recently, and about whom we’re surely going to find out more in the upcoming episodes. The other students also tend to give you clues about the social structures at Blackwell Academy, helping you make more informed choices or realise how you’ve accidentally walked into a tricky situation by pissing off the wrong people.

Life is Strange made me think about society as an intricate web of people influencing each other, for good and bad. It’s an optimistic game in so far as that it affirms positive choices. Yes, you can make a difference. And sometimes, you don’t even need time travel for that.

Fun Fact: Potential publishers for Life Is Strange pressured the creators to change the protagonist into a boy. They refused.

Charlotte was listening to ‘Piano Fire’ by Sparklehorse while writing this.

 

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