Well let’s begin with the basics. Life is Strange is an episodic game published by Square Enix along the lines of episodic games from TellTale that are now too numerous to mention. The game itself has been made by Dontnod who are best known for Remember Me.
You can download episodes individually or pay the full price for all 5 episodes. There is also an option to buy episodes 2 to 4 at a slight discount if episode 1 has grabbed you by the sensitive areas enough. Safe to say they have all bases covered on this front.
So to the game then I suppose.
So what’s the story? I will keep this as spoiler free as possible for the main plot points and twists, however I will be spoiling the main mechanic of the game to a point.
You are Maxine Caulfield, a budding photographer hipster smart ass Juno alike. A girl who despises social cliques and thinks of herself as an individual despite being one of ‘those’ individuals who is in fact the same as almost everyone else. Just because she isn’t a jock, nerd, rich bitch etc. does not mean she is a unique snowflake. Not in this baboons eyes anyhow.
Max, never Maxine as its uncool, starts the game in a nightmare/dream about a disaster befalling her home town. She then awakens in class surrounded by all manner of teen school stereotypes.
Let’s look at some of these stereotypes that walk the corridors of this game, it’s impressively thorough:
Wish you were my Dad man: The cool young teacher who was and is a famous photographer. Young enough to have banter with these adolescent whippersnappers but earns respect through his cool career. He is what all of these youths want to be. He has a trendy beard, after all facial hair is cool.
The rich sporty toss bag: Mummy and Daddy own half the town. This gives him the right to act like a ‘total douche’ throwing his weight around. He is virtually untouchable and of course the leader of the jocks because of his er…. Money.
Rich Bitch and friends: Tremble in fear at little miss moneybags. With her 2 subservient lackeys she breathes fear into any girl who isn’t a walking bikini model or dares to wear glasses. She thinks she is the best, she has the best. Best best best.
Religious girl: Unfortunately not a bible launching superhero but a quiet very clever student with overbearing religious relatives who no doubt pummelled ‘Jesus did this’ and ‘Jesus did that’ into her poor little head from the moment she was born to this world. However, she has done something that could change this. What is it? Play the game to find out.
Retro geek science boy: I love science! I love sci-fi! I love old sci-fi films! I’m apparently not loved nor hated by anyone! I’m a love interest, maybe, in my dreams at least. Oh I’m just Mr Average as it turns out. My heart is in the right place though!
Rebel possible lesbian girl: I used to be normal then something happened. Now I have blue hair. I have tattoos and listen to rock music. I don’t conform because conforming sucks. I’m too cool for school. I smoke weed. Fuck the world it sucks. I’m so rebellious I might be a lesbian!
Military moustache man: So you’ve left the army, what to do….. School security that’s what! So what if you are no longer an active killing machine these little bastards need putting in line and that’s what you’ll do. With a military grade moustache you’ll whip these little punks into shape, after all you are still national security! In your head at least…
Mr Creepy Janitor: The man who cleans up the vomit and poo. The man who is quiet and only speaks when spoken to. The man who believes in a spirit squirrel. The man who refers to himself in the third person. The man who has a soft spoken voice, soft in a creepy way. The man who is either harmless or wears a belt made from nipples.
You get the drift. Add in a cast of skaters, ’emo’ people, tech geeks and a mysterious club with only a select clientele then you have all the makings of everything you’ve seen in a million different places before.
Or have you? Not necessarily, there is more to this paint by numbers rabble than meets the eye, we will get to that though.
Back to Max. In the classroom we find out about the main selling point of Life is Strange and what makes this game slightly different in the world of ‘your choice changes the story’ style games.
If you have played a TellTale game or indeed games such as Mass Effect you will be used to games that stop and give you a choice of actions to determine what, often horrible, event will transpire. Have you ever wanted to go back and change your mind and see what the alternate choice would bring? Do you go back and replay the game to see what you have missed? If you say yes to either of these then Life is Strange wishes to make you life easier, sort of.
Max finds out she can rewind time and change the past. With a simple trigger pull on the joypad you can rewind the game to change events or change discussions by either using information you have heard during the discussion to your advantage or to simply say something else.
You can change past events that are pointed out on the timeline on the screen for different outcomes.
And then we hit the big choices.
Let’s say you have a rather large moral quandary plopped into your hands, you have a choice to make on screen between two options. You have sweaty palms knowing you have to make a choice and you want to make the ‘right’ one. Going back in time and seeing both options play out should make things easier yes?
It would if the game had been crafted with lesser thought and talent. This game has the audacity to show you every possible outcome and still leave you none the wiser which way was ‘right’, and this is due to characters.
I may have sounded negative in my little character study above and on the surface and it would be right to read it that way if that was all there is.
What Dontnod have done very well is to apparently give all of these characters hints of other dimensions. Little bits of backstory here, a bit of information there. A glance which offers more to them, a phrase or conversation that is slightly unexpected, just enough for you to wonder if there is more here than the obvious.
Enough characterisation to give depth but not enough to know if you are reading too much into it. Two episodes in and I’m still not sure who, hand on my heart, I should believe, and this my friends is keeping me interested in the characters.
There may be some who are what they seem but this game goes from black and white obviousness that you feel at the start of the game to a muddled wonderful intriguing grey.
As Max it is your job to find out why you can manipulate time, get through school life and find out what your nightmare was about.
It’s a not so simple school story sandwich with fillings of Armageddon, time travel, friendship, betrayal, murder mystery and a wee bit of twin peaks. It is a heady mix that took this gamer by surprise.
Before we lavish more superlatives or at least positive opinions we will look at the negatives like a Granddad at an all-night dub step party.
The script: This is the elephant in the room, the big one that could put people off, the script.
More precisely it’s the language. This game tries desperately to be cool and youthful. There are many utterances of ‘hella’ and I have to admit a single use of ‘amazeballs’ that made this gamer almost grimace his face inside out and his testicles retreat back from whence they came.
There are also far too many cool retro references to the past. A past these characters would have no idea about. I for one do not wax lyrical about muskets and the bubonic plague for instance.
However overall it isn’t as bad as I’ve made it sound, it’s a Juno level hipsterisation and smartassery, jarring at first but I just let it be and would suggest you do the same.
Pacing: There are a few pacing issues gameplay wise, a couple of games moments that disrupt the flow of the story and story is really what this is about. A section where you have to find 5 beer bottles feels out of place and clunky. There are a few quieter moments where momentum is lost and a few occasions where the time rewinding mechanic is used for the sake of it, for mundane tasks. You can be assured though that these lulls are made up for by the last act of each episode that ramps up the tension and gives you hard decisions to make.
Technical issues: The frame rate can stutter at the start of location changes and the lip sych isn’t great but these are not important enough to bother finishing this sentan…
Apart from that it’s a solid game. A well written, intriguing, interesting, surprisingly pretty, thoughtful journey into the life of a young girl in a strange town with an extraordinary talent.
Two episodes in and I am impatiently waiting for the next. I have no idea where it is going but I have enjoyed the journey so far. I hope it fulfils the promise it is showing, in fact the only negative I can really hold against it is that if each episode builds on the story as much as the first two it will need a hell of an ending to tie up the loose ends on this crazy spinning plate of quantum spaghetti. I hope it can pull it off, time will tell.
Oh and one more thing. This game knows how to montage at the end. Just when you think you may be sniffing an idea of a thought of an inkling of what’s going on, the montage will will show you things that make you question everything.
Life is Strange, is it? Yes in a very good way indeed, bravo.
Sound: music, voice and noises (bet you could do better)Ed.
Accessibility: joypad required (ps4)
Playability: it works
Score: very good/100
(Presses left trigger)………………………………………………………………….
Life is strange apparently, well if you are a hipster teenage female photography student anyway. Or at least that is the claim, so is it?
Well let’s begin with the basics. Life is Strange is an episo…..