Game Review: Life is Strange

reviews the series in its entirety following the release of the final episode

Life is Strange - James Lees Rating: ★★★★★
Platform: PC
Release Date: 20 October 2015
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment

Life is Strange is one of the first of a new breed of games, that challenge the idea that a game needs to be fun. It follows the new episodic adventure game style that was popularised by Telltale Games with The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us and others. You walk around talking to people and solving short logic puzzles and the occasional item puzzle. All in all there’s not much game play.

Perhaps it’s better not to think of this emerging genre as games at all but rather as interactive stories. Some of the game elements feel forced with the most obvious one being in the second episode, where you need to walk around a junk yard collecting bottles (a task that became so ridiculed it was referenced later in the game). As such those who only really care for game mechanics could probably skip this game, as it’s very focused on the story. But my goodness what a story.

You play as Max, a teenage girl in a fairly standard American high school. For a while at least you have to deal with ordinary problems such as scornful peers, boys and the like. However you then have a vision of a huge tornado heading towards your sleepy little town and discover you have the ability to turn back time. From there it’s an ever deepening rabbit’s hole of mystery, intrigue and unintended consequences.

I won’t spoil the plot of the game, so beware that my statements may seem overly broad. Firstly the game deals with characterisation fantastically. Anyone that you interact with for a length of time shows a depth and complexity that many games lack. The game it keeps a consistent style and theme that will make it timeless. The character’s and their speech have been often criticised as unrealistic but having grown up on American high school based television it didn’t bother me. And all of this is backed up by an incredible soundtrack that is fitted so perfectly into the game that the cutscenes become some of the best parts.

It’s the decision making that truly makes this game. There is an emphasis throughout the game on your decisions having consequences, and with the ability to rewind time to change the decision before you lock it in, any decision you make is truly your own. The choices you make can range from what will you order for breakfast (this has no major implications) to some truly impossible questions. There are maybe 4 or 5 very large choices to make in the game and at each point it pauses, gives you all the time you need, then you decide. Some of these choices are ones I hope that you or I will never ever have to make and that you probably couldn’t even imagine making in real life.

In my discussions with others some have said that these decisions lose impact because they might not have much of lasting impact on the game world, but to me what is important is that I made the choice. One of them in particular made me put down my controller for maybe twenty minutes or so, so that I could come to a proper decision. And if that’s not powerful I don’t know what is (If you’re interested in more about this kind of powerful decision making in games I’d recommend the Extra Credits Video on the topic).

As I said previously Life is Strange is perhaps less of a game and more of an interactive experience, as such it may not be suitable for everyone. But if you have even the slightest interest in it I cannot recommend it enough. The decisions I made will stay with me for a very long time and I eagerly await the next game of its type.

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