I played the first episode of Life is Strange this evening. It was a bit of a late adoption because I hadn’t decided if the game actually qualified as an indie title. Sure it’s tagged as “indie” in the Steam store, and it was created by the French independent developer Dontnod, but the thing was distributed by Square-freaking-Enix. I just wanted to make sure they weren’t meddling around with the dev process. But after reading about it on the most trustworthy news source on earth, I was satisfied in its indieness. But since you probably didn’t give a shit anyway, on to the Life is Strange review!
Life is Strange
Life is Strange is a point-and-click adventure starring Max(ine) Caulfield, an 18 year old photography student attending art school in Arcadia Bay, Oregon. The game has heavy focus on plot and character rather than puzzle-solving, and as such, many have noted similarities to 2013’s indie hit Gone Home. But Life is Strange has a different feel in both tone and gameplay for a number of reasons. Firstly, the player actually gets to interact with other characters in the game which makes the unfolding of the story have a more involved feel to it. Whereas Gone Home completely relies on the uncovering of environmental clues to inform the player of the plot points, Life is Strange let’s the player stroll right past virtually every object in the game, if they so choose, and still progress without missing any of the main story. Lastly (and possibly the biggest departure) is that the player can change the plot based on their actions and dialog choices. But overall, the way the plot is presented and transmitted to the player is much more like a traditional movie or tv show with Life is Strange than in Gone Home.
The graphical style of Life is Strange is somewhat confusing to me. It doesn’t take a clear path toward either realism nor artistic expression, but instead lands in a fuzzy middle area. So what you end up with are reasonably realistic-looking character models that just happen to look like they drew their beard on with a paint brush that morning. But don’t get me wrong, the game looks great, whether I’m able to pinpoint the style or not. And the set design is superb, which truly allows the game to give that immersive feeling. But the fact that the mouths of the characters wag on without any adherence to the words that are supposedly coming out of their mouths is a quality that I can only interpret as being a shortcut in production costs. However I found that I quickly stopped noticing the design choice, and we all know plenty of games still go this route even today.
Storytelling & Gameplay
I usually lump plot in with presentation, but since the story is the focus of the experience here, I figure it falls on the gameplay side of the fence this time. The story told by Life is Strange is compelling, if a bit lacking in depth. I got the feeling no actual teenagers were consulted in the writing process, because pretty much all the slang used was about five to ten years old, and I found myself rolling my eyes at the delivery more than once. But purposefully or not, this almost makes the characters more likeable, as they all come off like awkward dorks. Even “hardcore” Chloe comes off a bit more naive than I think the developers meant her to, but it ends up making her more endearing because of it.
There are many things to look at and interact with, but as I said earlier, it’s almost all optional. But the aspect that keeps you looking is the ability to change the plot. Small spoiler here: Max has the ability to go back in time in small increments (which happens to be my personal “would-wish-for super power”). So you can try out a dialog option and if it doesn’t feel right, you can go back and take the other fork. But it seems like most of the choices won’t have a large effect until further episodes down the road.
I enjoyed playing the first episode of Life is Strange, and I’m excited to play the following installments. Though the dialog suffers from a bit of unnatural delivery and wording, the story has enough mystery and emotion to fully engage the player. Similarly, the graphical style has its clunks here and there, but it almost makes a better match for a story about an awkward teenaged wallflower. So if you either like, or have an interest in, the following game aspects—movie-like presentation, dramatic plots, branching storylines, point and click object examination—then I can give this one a clear recommendation. Get it on Steam, and basically every other platform besides Wii U. Pricks.
- Fuzzy feels
- Good/complementary music
- Engaging plot-branching gameplay
- 2 hours long
- But that's not terrible for $4-5
- Goofy dialog at times