[dropcap size=big]F[/dropcap]rench developer Dontnod first appeared on my radar when Remember Me was in the works. The unique futuristic storyline did not seem to grab players as a whole, but basically everyone agreed that the “Memory Remixing” gameplay aspect was worthy of praise. It seems they kept that in mind as their latest game, Life is Strange, utilizes memory and time in its own ways. Although the episodic series has just begun it’s obvious they’ll continue with said timeline-altering features. Of course, framing a completely different story with time mechanics requires careful attention. So how does time interact with Life is Strange, and does it fit?
Players are made very aware of the impact of time within the game very early on. Shortly after protagonist Max is able to walk around her school she is caught in a dangerous situation. Because she has no clue what to do, she fails to take action and leaves no chance of continuing the story forward. Instead, you’re taught how to reverse time (no, Max doesn’t understand how she can do this either!) to resolve the event safely. With that first taste of control, the player is then able to continue to mess with time at basically any other instance they see fit. It’s a degree of power that did not exist in Remember Me, as those Memory Remix segments were few and far between – and heavily choreographed.
That’s not to say everything about Life is Strange is free form. At least in this first episode the developers are very heavy-handed with explaining exactly when using your abilities is best. Talk to a character and then Max’ll ruminate about how they should have handled that differently. Interestingly, no matter which choices you made she will suggest another option may have been better. Fail to do something else and you may be given a visual clue that an event failed to trigger in its optimal manner. Basically, they give very liberal clues to the player but that may just be because the gameplay concept is new in Episode 1.
What is most intriguing about rewinding time here is how it allows the player to experience “everything” as they see fit. As was mentioned, there’s little restriction placed on time manipulation, meaning you can do it whenever. A lot of the time this doesn’t matter, but other times it fixes what players deem to be mistakes. For example, trying to pull some papers down from a high shelf and having them all fall on the ground is a mistake. Perhaps it would or would not affect the plot down the road, but you can first look at them and then rewind as if it never happened. Now you won’t have made a mess but you’ll still retain that knowledge.
It provides players with a real sense of power in a way completely different from other games. Most video games draw such feelings from allowing you to equip powerful weaponry, or simply allowing the protagonist to be a vehicle of destruction in and of itself. Life is Strange is not destructive – it is constructive. Controlling time allows you to do anything. Don’t like how a character is treating you? Try a different conversation. Want to see if something can be altered? Simply give it a shot! My hope is that is future episodes will push the envelope with this mechanic further. Controlling time is an excellent feature and allows for new insight into Life is Strange’s world and characters. Players should definitely explore situations multiple times to fully immerse themselves in Max’s incredible predicament.