[dropcap size=big]U[/dropcap]pon its reception, Life is Strange developed by Dontnod Entertainment, and produced by Square Enix, has been compared to titles such as Telltale Games’ The Walking Dead, and Fullbright’s Gone Home with its cinematic, interactive film-style gameplay. This comparison is reinforced by the semi-comic art style much like Telltale Games’ renderings, and the player’s involvement in decision-making that alters the path they take in the game. Don’t fear however, there are no QTE’s (that I’ve seen), and the title has a lot of assets to pull the player in, much like the first line in a novel that hooks the reader. Get through the ominous opening scene, and you’re instantly drawn into this real, living, breathing world Dontnod has created. Before we look into the technical aspects of the game elements, here’s a quick breakdown of the premise (no spoilers, so don’t fret).
Life is Strange is more than just a phrase muttered under our breath as we exhale the stress of today, studying the sunset wondering if tomorrow will be any different. This speculation puts the pieces together that create Maxine (or Max), our heroine of this odd adventure. There are bits and pieces of Max that many players may relate to, as I personally found a bit of myself somewhere amidst the cocoon-like protagonist. Max is a senior photography student at Blackwell Academy, in Arcadia Bay, Oregon. After waking from a strange dream in the middle of class, she finds herself locked in a mystery that turns her mundane life into something out of a Stephen King novel. Dontnod drops players into a believable, academic environment, then throws twists and turns into the track that will leave you sitting back in your chair like “what did I just watch go down”? With the recent missing persons report going around for one of your fellow students, and the presence of a higher conspiracy behind this strange town, the fog of Maxine’s past is the least of your worries. In Life is Strange, the player is given many opportunities:
- Get acquainted with Max, your protagonist
- What types of change is Max going through as a young adult?
- Who is Rachel Amber and why/how did she go missing?
- What’s more important, Max’s future career or what connection her dreams have with what’s going on in town?
The game has a smooth flow of play, supported by the sturdy, reliable Unreal Engine. All the essentials are present for conveying a well-written and involving story, including point and click elements, and conversational direction influenced by the player. The basic mechanics are accentuated by an over-the-shoulder camera (featured in titles like Gears of War and Resident Evil 4), and the ability to change movement speed like running or speed walking (don’t run in the halls). However the highlights of the game aren’t exactly awarded to the gameplay mechanics, but the developers’ grip on ambiance. Taking a walk through the halls of Blackwell Academy will bring you back to what a bustling, noisy school hall would sound and feel like (unless you’re currently attending school in which case I advise you to stay there forever, real life is terrifying). From the gossiping students, to the jocks exerting their alpha male authority, right down to the posters on the walls and educational propaganda, it channels the player’s empathy for how Max perceives it all-this setting puts the player right in the shoes of the point character, and everything she feels is directly conveyed to the player either through what the game camera is witnessing, or her self-narrative commentary on her surroundings. On that note, the script itself is quite a treat, read off well by excellent, on-point voice acting. The only issue with the script is the way that certain phrases or usage of words sound, embodied by the essence of understanding only anchored by a generalized assumption of what the current generation seems like. Despite this bit however, the game culture does address many of today’s issues that the younger generation finds important:
Those posters didn’t save poor Daniel from Logan…
Altogether, the game is an experience that can’t be missed. It fits right in with the interactive movie sub-genre, cemented in the games industry by developers like Quantic Dream and Telltale Games. These immersive, cinematic “create-your-own” story games have been picking up steam, and come under heavy fire from critics as they are titles that strive for film-like quality and refinement. Such titles, when under review, should be approached with caution, as an entire experience can be ruined with even the slightest spoiler. This review was approached with special care in order to preserve the experience for you, and you may rest assured that it’s an exciting ride when you have no idea what you’re getting yourself into.
Life is Strange is a five-part game series, each episode is available for $4.99 each, or you can get the entire series for $19.99 on Steam, Humble Bundle, or the official website! The game has been ported to PS4, Xbox One, as well as PS3, and Xbox 360 for those console gamers out there!