Also On: Xbox One, PS3, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
I have to give it to Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix, Life is Strange is their first shot at crafting an a wholly original episodic adventure series and they more or less nailed it. If you don’t mind a little teen drama tropes in the games you play, then Life is Strange is it a wild, emotional ride that keeps up with the best that even Telltale has to offer these days.
For the uninitiated, Life is Strange is a 5 episode supernatural series (our review of past episodes here), that takes its innocent young protagonist, Max Caulfield, to hell and back. Set in the picturesque, fictional Pacific Northwest town of Arcadia Bay, the drama that unfolds over the series literally rips the character’s world (and life) apart. People die, the city is set to be destroyed by a monster storm, and our heroine finds herself with time shifting abilities that the player decides how to best utilize.
Yes, some of the plot points can be just a touch predictable over the entire season, so thankfully a few of the key choices that Max can make (or unmake) during the adventure should help keep players on the edge of their seats. Episodes 1 – 3 start off slow and ultimately lead to cliffhangers that originally made the several week gap in between installments nearly unbearable. Episodes 4 and 5 really ratchet up the crazy, and at that point with most players (hopefully) emotionally invested in a few of the main characters, Dontnod forces them to make some agonizing decisions.
The studio tells an emotionally gripping story in Life is Strange, and the whole look and feel of the world, and the music especially, add a lot to the overall experience. Some of the English language "How do you do fellow kids?" type writing and delivery ends up being unintentionally funny, though for the most part the game feels like it successfully achieves the intended emotional response. I could have done without the sudden bout of exposition and character self-reflection towards the end of the finale, and there’s also an unexpected gameplay sequence towards in the last episode that feels out of place. Both mess with the pacing to an extent, but neither seriously weigh down the overall experience across the entire series. On a side note, most of us had to wait around 9 months from start to finish to see the story through, so those who jump in now will be in much better shape.
Using time manipulating abilities in Life is Strange instead of plain old QTE sequences provides for some interesting puzzles and outcomes, even if only a small number of Max’s actions and decisions lead to much of a butterfly effect. Just walking around and navigating the game world is intuitive, and damn near everything you do is narrated by Max which occasionally can become irritating. If you’re stuck, the game helpfully offers tips to get some forward progress going once again, which is useful in a few instances.
Life is Strange has a number of memorable scenes where the goal is… to do nothing at all. Just being able to sit down and enjoy the Arcadia Bay atmosphere and surroundings, the music and ambient sound effects, and to generally take a break from the game itself, is a unique little touch that sets the series apart. Thanks to the bite sized episodes (2-3 hours), and the long wait in between, I didn't mind taking it slow to find the optional photo-taking opportunities (the game’s only “collectables”) to stretch out the experience a bit more. Beyond filling up Max’s journal and unlocking some trophies/achievements, the photos don't serve much purpose in the in-game world. Upon completing an episode you can compare your in-game actions and choices (both minor and major) with friends and the rest of the community, which can be both amusing and depressing depending on the outcome.
If you’re on the market for a dramatic and original episodic series with unique gameplay mechanics and an intriguing story to tell, then consider checking out Life is Strange. I definitely need to reiterate how impressed I am with Dontnod Entertainment's first foray into the episodic adventure genre, and we're definitely excited to see where they'll be taking us next.