Definitely one of the strongest narrative-driven games to date
After five years in Seattle, Washington, 18-year-old Maxine “Max” Caulfield returns to her hometown, Arcadia Bay, Oregon, to become a 12th grade student at the prestigious Blackwell Academy. Though one would think the boarding school to be a gateway to a bright future, the shy girl has a hard time fitting in and spends most of her time contemplating. All of this is about to change abruptly when Max reconnects with her childhood friend, Chloe Price, and realizes that she has the ability to manipulate time. She quickly learns that her friend’s life was anything except peaches and roses since she left town and, even worse, is informed that Chloe’s girlfriend, Rachel Amber, went missing six months prior to her return. The police had already given up on the search for the girl, and so, determined to make it up to Chloe, Max decides to help find Rachel, come what may.
Although in the first two minutes Life is Strange might be mistaken for a highly pretentious project, it immediately picks up as soon as Max first steps into the school’s hallways and transforms the game into a marvellously well-written, ideally paced, story-driven adventure (for lack of a better term; point & click adventure just doesn’t fit) about friendship, grief, and self-discovery. Even more so, alongside the main plot, Life is Strange engages in a compelling discussion about mental health without being preachy about it.
About the Game
Life is Strange was released in five episodes over the course of 2015 and has a total playtime of around 20 hours. What is remarkable about this game is that it had already drawn a massive cult following around it before the final episode was released. One of the many reasons behind this success is certainly developer Don’t Nod Entertainment proving to have great observers within their midst:
The portrayal of youth in the 2010s is spot on with the generation’s fascination with vividly dyed hair, tattoos, social media, old instant cameras, or indie pop and alternative rock music. The game, does however, overcompensate on colloquialisms which lead to some jaw dropping lines like, “Now you’re totally stuck in the retro zone. Sad face.” And even though some might consider this to be a flaw, these cheesy lines add a lot of character and will make players smile more than once. Even better than that is the ingenious soundtrack that will just get stuck in your head. (The limited edition comes with an artbook and the soundtrack CD, which I tried tracking down. Sadly I can’t find a store that sells it.)
Aside from the audiovisual presentation, Life is Strange also features actual gameplay mechanics that are often missing from other graphic adventures. In the center of it all is Max’s ability to “rewind” time for a couple of minutes to remedy the short-term effects of her decisions without knowing how these will play out in the long run. This power comes in handy when Max has to solve puzzles – like when she sets off an alarm by breaking a door open, only to enter the room behind it and rewind time, thus being inside without ever having opened said door – or when she talks to her peers and rewinds to insert new pieces of information into the conversation and redirect the discussion.
Performance and Bugs
The game came out on multiple platforms, including PlayStation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and One, MS Windows, Linux, and Apple’s OS X. Don’t Nod did a marvellous job with its programming and it ran surprisingly well on my ol’ toaster (a 32-bit Windows Vista PC with an Intel Core 2 CPU, an Nvidia GeForce 9500 GT graphics card, 3070 MB RAM and DirectX 11). That said, players with weaker and older PCs should prepare for a lower FPS count: I had around 15 frames per second throughout the game, which turned out to be less of a problem as this isn’t an action-based experience. The game also works perfectly well with both a controller or when playing with a keyboard and mouse; the menu may look a bit alien to keyboard players at first, but it’s really easy to get into it. With all that said, the only bug I encountered three times (and that I’ve observed happen to some YouTubers as well) was that the fast forward command got stuck during conversations.
Story and Characters
When I first learned about the game, I wasn’t sure what to think. I liked the art style and it got me intrigued, but I feared that it might not live up to its hype. I’m glad I was wrong. There is a lot going on in Life is Strange with its rather substantial cast of characters, several of which are also mesmerizingly complex. Victoria, for example, presents herself as an ice-cold, petulant person, but if one chooses to get to know her better, reveals to have a surprisingly geeky and caring side to her. Overall, the world building is astonishing for such a tight game: Aside from following the main plot, players can choose to have Max look and ponder over other character’s belongings, read posters, check her text messages, or update her diary. Even though all of this is optional, it truly lets Arcadia Bay come to life.
Sadly, as the studio faced several financial constraints during production, not all of the characters are as developed as they could have otherwise been and a few plot lines are left unresolved. The monetary limitations are also the reason behind the mouth movement and dubbing being asynchronous at times, as well as the “Illusion of Choice”, as it is now commonly called by gamers, also being prevalent in Life is Strange. This means that although the choices made by players influence aspects of the story, the main plot itself stays the same throughout. And while this is a minor setback, the game makes more than up for this by having this groundbreaking plot that will take anyone by storm.
Life is Strange is the first game where I can, without a doubt, say that it is art. The bittersweet story and characters are deep and the themes meaningful. I was not prepared to have such intense emotional responses from a video game and caught myself pondering about what transpired in its story for a week after I finished playing. If future games will have stories as strong as this, sign me up.
The first episode is available for free on all platforms – which are PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, MS Windows, Linux, as well as Apple OS X – whereas the complete game can be gotten both as digital download or as the retail version for $19.99 USD or your local equivalent. There is also a limited edition available that includes the soundtrack and a 32-page long artbook. Unfortunately I was unable to it track down, otherwise I would have bought that. If you have the chance to, I’d suggest getting the limited version for the great music.
Life is Strange gets 10 butterflies out of 10 deers
The postcard Rachel Amber sent to Chloe has the postal code 97141 written on it, which is Tillamook, OR. In fact, the city of Garibaldi, OR, if flipped horizontally, looks identical to the poster of Arcadia Bay in Chloe’s house with the nearest lighthouse being the Cape Meares lighthouse. The main reference point for the town, however, was Astoria, OR (source: http://www.momenta.online/2016/02/edouard-caplain-on-the-art-behind-life-is-strange/ )
Thank you for reading my article. If you like, please do feel free to leave a comment. There’s no need to register or login. Also, all screenshots shown here were taken by me during my playthrough. You can also follow my reviews on Steam: http://steamcommunity.com/groups/gaoscorner#curation Have a nice day.