Life Is Strange was a complete surprise to me. I tried the first episode on a whim because I’d read about it being some of the best storytelling in a video game of 2015. I was not disappointed.
In this game you take the role of the 18 year old Max Caulfield an aspiring photographer who’s moving back to her sleepy seaside hometown after 5 years in Seattle. This is a good framing device for the player as it let’s you explore the town’s characters with Max because she’s been away so long she barely knows anyone anymore.
In the first playable scene you’re in photography class. This is your first chance to meet some of your fellow students at Blackwell High. All of your classic American school stereotypes are represented; jocks, mean girls, nerds, goths and unpopular kids. Max falls somewhere in the middle of the social totem pole, letting you chat to pretty much anyone you want.
You can hit Triangle to get a brief explanation or hear what Max is thinking about most objects and people in the world that you can interact with. So I took this time to learn about my fellow classmates.
It’s not long before the teacher starts asking you questions to see if you were paying attention to what he was saying. I wasn’t, I got distracted by having Max take selfie so this actually caught me off guard and I answered incorrectly. This mistake gave the mean girl Victoria a chance to show me up in front of everyone.
So the classroom scene plays out and Max heads out to the bathroom to compose herself where she witnesses a boy and girl arguing. This argument get’s extremely heated and the boy pulls a gun and shoots the girl. As the girl hits the ground Max holds out her hand and time suddenly stops. This is where the game shows it’s unique gameplay mechanic for the first time.
Max is suddenly transported to a cliffside lighthouse being torn apart by a tornado and just as she’s about to get crushed by falling debris she wakes up back in the same classroom you started in.
During every conversation and event from this point on you’ll have access to Max’s time rewinding power. So for instance you could let things play out in the classroom exactly as before but now you know the question you could steal Victoria’s answer much to her chagrin. More importantly this also means that you can be ready to save the girl from being shot later on.
It’s a well thought out mechanic that allows the developers to turn the any conversation into a puzzle. Sometimes you may have to question a room full of people so you can then rewind with all of your new found knowledge and have the perfect conversation with a key character. Or you can retry a whole scenario that went bad.
I came across an example of this fairly early on where you meet up with your childhood friend Chloe at her house and she asks you to take the rap for some weed she was smoking when her step dad shows up. If you claim it’s your weed you get threatened with a call to your parents but ultimately the situation defuses. However if you let Chloe take the rightful blame things escalate very quickly culminating in her step dad hitting her in a rage. Luckily the game usually warns you before you hit a point of no return so I had a chance to put things right after that screw up.
There are some story situations that can’t be avoided or failed and in these cases you will be forced to rewind if you mess it up. These moments typically involve saving one of the main character’s lives but you should never let your guard down when playing Life Is Strange.
This game has some of the hardest choices I’ve ever had to make in a game. It made me feel like I knew the characters personally and that made it way harder to decide their fate. There have been multiple times I’ve had to put the controller down and talk it out with my girlfriend next to me. She’d been watching and was almost always just as conflicted as I was.
Over the course of the first 2 episodes they let you mess around and in time start to rely on your powers to get through conversations. Then you get to a life or death moment only to find out you’ve overused your powers that day and you have to carefully pick the correct answers and actually use knowledge you’ve hopefully have been accruing along your way. Luckily I had been trying to learn everything I could about this particular person and was able to save them.
The way they take your powers away does a great job of making you feel useless in that moment. Add in that this was a character I genuinely cared about saving and this was definitely the most memorable moment of the game for me.
Unfortunately Life Is Strange can show some signs of it’s low budget origin at times. Some of the lip synching doesn’t always match up with the audio and the facial animation isn’t on par with bigger budget games which have access to facial capture techniques. This can make the characters look a bit like creepy puppets at times. I don’t personally think this is a big deal in the grand scheme of the game and I still really enjoyed the character interaction in spite of this.
I don’t really want to reveal anything else about the story because that’s basically the main reason to play it. The game is mechanically sound as far as I’ve seen. I didn’t experience any glitches or crashes during my time. So if anything I’ve said seems intriguing then I would definitely recommend Life Is Strange.