I actually didn’t care a whole lot for Life is Strange when I first started playing. I don’t mind people being hipsters, but I can’t stand when someone feels the need to constantly remind me that they’re a hipster. This goes for anybody, really. If you’re a vegan, vegetarian, humanitarian, atheist, hippie, republican, democrat or whatever, just be what you are and stop acting on the need to remind all of us every five minutes.
For the first twenty minutes or so, I felt that Life is Strange was becoming guilty of this. There’s a constant barrage of hipster lingo along with obscure artist, band, and movie references and I immediately began thinking to myself OK, we all get it; these people have seen Juno. Now, quit beating us over the head with it. Luckily for me (and you if you choose to play this game) once the story takes over, all the references and culture quickly became palatable and fitting as I became engrossed in the world that the developers had laid out for me.
The story revolves around a young high school senior named Maxine Caulfield, or just Max; an introverted photography student who is starting her final year of high school at the prestigious Blackwell Academy. When I say prestigious I really mean it; I think there are about fifteen or sixteen students here. She’s having trouble fitting in and to compound her teen angst, she accidentally finds out that she has the inexplicable ability to rewind time. I won’t spoil anything, but the reveal comes at a pretty pivotal point and it quickly lays the ground for the multi-layered mystery that will unfold over the next four episodes. Again, I won’t spoil anything, but it looks like things will revolve around a missing person mystery, a shady high school organization, a supernatural tornado, and among other things, typical high school drama.
Anyone who has played Telltale games like The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us will feel instantly at home with the gameplay. It all basically boils down to scouring the environments for things to click on and observe. The real hook comes in the dialogue options that move the story forward. Like Telltale’s games, the choices made here are not easy to decide on and you are constantly reminded that whatever choices you make will carry some sort of consequence down the line. The element that sets Life is Strange apart, however, is the rewind ability. At any point you can rewind a few minutes of gameplay to do things differently. This includes your dialogue options. If you make a choice you are not happy with you can simply rewind a few seconds and make a different choice. It is a well implemented and useful tool but it does take a bit of the edge off when you know you can instantly change your decision once made.
Max’s supernatural ability also comes in handy during the multiple puzzle solving sequences. Being able to go back and forth while changing various elements of the environment lead to some pretty interesting puzzle solutions and I can only imagine that Dontnod will continue to add layers and depth to this concept as the episodes continue to roll out. The downside to it is that there seems to be a predetermined outcome for all the puzzles so far. There is the illusion that you are choosing how things will play out, but it ultimately boils down to choosing option A or option B only to ultimately land on scenario C no matter which avenue you picked. The story is so well crafted though that I found myself not really caring how I arrived at any particular conclusion; I was just happy to be there.
There were also a few technical problems that diluted the experience a bit for me. I dealt with constant sound issues almost the whole time. There were certain sequences when the sound would completely cut out and would not come back until I entered a cut scene. There were also a few glitches that occurred during the gameplay that broke immersion.
For example, I rewound time to help prevent a young lady from getting hit in the back of the head with a football. I successfully saved her and she acted grateful, but for some reason part of the game was convinced that she still got hit so even while she was smiling and talking to me, the audio of her crying was loud and clear. It wasn’t game breaking, it was actually kind of humorous, but it did take me out of the experience a bit. Many of the characters are also clichéd to almost annoying lengths. Most of them seem to be ripped straight out of an early 90’s high school comedy. The rich kids are all jerks, the religious kid is spineless and awkward, the skaters all talk like Bill and Ted…I think you get the picture. Luckily the main players are well written and interesting, and that’s what really counts.
Dontnod has successfully weaved an intriguing tale of high school drama and sci-fi intrigue. The first episode had a rough start, but it left me wholly satisfied and itching for the next chapter. If you’re on the fence, I highly suggest you pay the low entry fee of five bucks and take this short but engrossing sci-fi high school tale for a test drive.
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