“Life is Strange,” Dontnod Entertainment‘s second game, is a cross between a visual novel and a puzzle game. I played it twice, once by myself and once with my friends making every decision while I did the puzzles. This allowed me to see both endings, but there are so many secrets even two playthroughs didn’t let me find them all.
The premise is interesting and unique. Maxine Caulfield, an 18 year old student at a prestigious art academy, witnesses a girl get shot in the bathroom. This activates her ability to reverse time, and she finds herself back in the opening scene of the game. She hurries back to the bathroom to save the girl by activating the fire alarm. This is a good tutorial for the time-based puzzles. Rewinding keeps your position and inventory, giving you more time without resetting. The difficulty curve is a bit weird, one of the hardest puzzles occurring in episode one. It’s excusable, though, because the game is about the story, not the gameplay.
“Time travel is wrong and must never happen”
Shortly after, you find out that the girl Max saved is her childhood best friend, Chloe Price. She’s become a lot rougher around the edges since Max moved five years before the game started. The game revolves around their relationship, as well as Chloe’s friendship with Rachel Amber. The player learns about her early on; missing posters with her name litter the school halls. Chloe is desperate to find her, and Max agrees to help. The three girls drive the plot, but there’s a wide cast of students, faculty and family who also influence the game.
At the end of episode one, Max gets a vision of tornado destroying Arcadia Bay. When she wakes up it starts to snow, despite it being a warm October day. Anomalies happen at the end of each episode, including two moons appearing at the end of episode four. Max speculates that her powers are unnatural, and the universe is warning her to stop before trying to destroy her town with a storm. Much like Stephen King’s “11/22/63”, time travel is wrong and must never happen.
The game gives you consequences for almost every action, and often it feels like none of them are “correct”. It’s not like inFamous or Mass Effect where there’s a “good” choice or a “bad” choice. You make the decision you think is right, and in most cases you regret either choice. No matter what you do, you can’t “win” the game no matter how many times you try to beat it. Try “Emily is Away” for a similar experience.
Enough summarizing, let’s review. Most people who play the game don’t feel “okay” after it. Playing a game has much more emotional impact than watching a movie because in a game because everything that happens is your fault. No matter what you’ve done throughout the game, you’re given two choices leading to the same endings. A friend of mine found it frustrating that no matter what you do there’s no changing the final choice. I thought it influenced the rest of the game enough, and it didn’t bother me at all. I don’t want to give it away, so I’ll say this: There’s a morally sound choice, but it’s not the one you’ll want to make. When I played the game with my friends, they couldn’t decide what to do. Two of them wanted different endings and two suffered decision paralysis. Both endings are emotional and worth experiencing.
“There’s a morally sound choice, but it’s not the one you’ll want to make.”
Episode five contains the nightmare sequence, one of the best examples of psychological horror I’ve seen in a video game. You’re forced through a labyrinth of disturbing dialogue options, a stealth section, an alternate version of Max ridiculing the real one, the citizens of Arcadia bay begging you to save them and her friends turning her backs on her. It culminates in her climbing up to the lighthouse where Chloe’s waiting for you. The path up is a montage showing moments of Max and Chloe’s friendship throughout the game. In a twisted way it’s my favorite part of the game, especially because it changes depending on which choices you made. It’s disturbing and brilliant and I love it.
The voice acting is amazing, Ashly Burch won the Best Gaming Performance Award for her role as Chloe Price. That said, the dialogue is almost hilariously “hella” terrible. It “hella” screams “adult trying to sound like a hip teenager”, and would’ve been “hella” more realistic if they spoke like normal adults. It’s “hella” immersion breaking at times, but not to the point of ruining the game. Picture going to a wedding but during the ceremony an air horn plays a few notes instead of an organ. It’s funny at first but eventually pisses you off.
As I’ve mentioned before, the puzzles are mediocre. Some of them are fun and challenging, but some of them are stupidly frustrating. On your second playthrough, though, you’ll remember how the puzzles work and the game will be a lot smoother. One friend said they ruined the flow of the game to the point that she wouldn’t be interested in playing again despite the story, but it’s much less of a problem the second time around.
The characters are phenomenal when the dialogue doesn’t get in the “hella” way. Through the five episodes, Victoria gets a bit nicer if you’re nice to her, and nerdy friend Warren gets less awkward. Best of all, “it’s all about me” Chloe Price finally steps up to take responsibility for her actions.
The graphics are good, but not great. The characters’ hair seems to be locked in place by two gallons of hairspray, but for the most part the cel shaded graphics look good. There are some pretty cool art decisions, such as photographs drawn instead of using player models.
Most people don’t buy a game because of soundtrack, but it’s worth mentioning. Almost all players love the indie rock music that gives a lot of life to the game. Instead of having one or a small group of composers, it brings music from many different artists, like Rebel Galaxy and Homestuck did. It gives the soundtrack wonderful variety.
Life is Strange is a “hella” beautiful game that, while a bit rough around the edges, is worth playing at least two times. The pacing is good; you can rush through the story or explore parts of Arcadia Bay achievement hunting for optional photographs. Despite a few puzzles and the occasional glitch, “Life is Strange” is an amazing game and is worth picking up if you’re looking for a good story or a good cry.
Final Score: 8.5/10