Waking up in the middle of a storm as a bewildered teenage girl isn’t your typical intro to a video game. Life is Strange takes your ideas of a typical video and throws them on their head. Labeled as an episodic interactive drama graphic adventure, Life is Strange promises to take you on an interesting and unique trip over 5 episodes. From Square Enix and French developer Dontnod, Life is Strange takes a bold step out of the traditional gaming mold and making some bold game play choices.
Episode 1 entitled Chrysalis introduces Maxine Caulfield, a teen who in her younger years moved away from quiet Arcadia Bay Oregon. Having spent the last four years to in Seattle Max chooses to come back to her home town because of her passion for photography and the chance to study with a famous photographer, turned teacher, at Blackwood Academy. Throughout the story you uncover most of the typical teenage high school archetypes; the jock, the rich prep, the loner, the stoner, and the popular girl. The heroine, Max, who plays the part of the cute, but shy and awkward young girl provides an easy to relate to protagonist. Max has to struggle with an overbearing security guard, a creepy groundskeeper, and all the normal pressures of a young girl in high school. As though high school drama isn’t enough to fuel an episodic series, Max soon finds that she has special abilities. These abilities allow Max to rewind bits of time and relive key moments throughout the game. The game promises at each of these moments that “your actions will have consequences”. You can rewind and choose a different path at each key moment, but you must live with your final choice. This mechanic of being able to explore each choice, while having to choose just one, provides a unique experience.
The game itself, being a game about a young girl with a passion for photography, is graphically stunning. The scenery, lighting and music all adds to the mysterious feeling of this introductory episode. This game places you on the edge of your seat throughout the entire experience. The lighting and music combine to enforce the seriousness of each decision you make. Being set in Oregon epic vistas and gorgeous views abound. Whether you are standing on a cliff over looking the ocean, or walking the halls of the school, you’re always moving about an appealing and interesting setting.
Game play itself is simple, consisting of moving about the environment investigating different objects and interacting with your classmates. While in your dorm room, you can pick up a guitar to play, check your email, or even listen to some tunes on your stereo. While interacting with characters in the environment your conversations become meaningful through branching conversation trees, often leading up to key moments where make a pivotal choices. The puzzle-based elements of the game are unique as they often will use Max’s new found “time rewind” ability. Life is Strange does a wonderful job of making you feel as though your choices make a difference in the game.
Wrapping up Life is Strange will take you somewhere around 2 hours, but it manages to make an emotional impact in this short time. The first episode of this series is masterfully put together, and leaves the gamer wanting for more. You’re presented with a unique mystery, complex social situations, and well fleshed out characters. Life is Strange is a wonderful example of everything that a first installment should be. It builds itself up, shows you glimpses of what it can be, and leave you hungering for more at the end. I for one will be anxiously awaiting the release of Episode 2 and suggest that you check out Episode 1. Picking up this game should be a simple choice.
Life is Strange is now available on Xbox One, Playstation 4, Playstation 3 and PC. The remaining 4 episodes will come out 6 weeks apart, with the next due out in March.