After beating over seven hundred games in the past ten years I rarely ever get my expectations betrayed by a game these days (both in a good and bad sense). I am usually perfectly aware whether whatever I am going to play next is going to be a bland trudge through the already known and tired (but I do it anyway because I’ve already exhausted everything else), or if it might turn into something special.
Now, I had expectations for Life is Strange; it seemed like exactly the type of game I’d enjoy — a Telltale kind of adventure coupled with a twist on time-traveling and teenage drama. But I had never suspected to find myself completely lost in it by the very first hour. I doubt everyone will have that experience, but to me it almost seemed like this game was designed specially for me.
Life is Strange is Twin Peaks (my favorite TV show) coupled with Donnie Darko (my favorite movie) coupled with Gone Home (one of my favorite adventure games) and with a fantastic cast, and even a more fantastic heroine to boot. I don’t even know if I have ever been immersed in a game as much as I was in this one.
That being said, I can totally see some people disliking the game — it has its flaws (like anything dealing with time travel and teenagers trying to play detectives) but, above all, it’s also such an intimate emotional experience almost everyone who has played it will take something different from it.
Originally, I was prepared to complain about the fact most choices in the game come off as having only more or less cosmetic consequences while the story nonetheless always follows the same general path, but I never realized how effective those cosmetic changes were until I checked a let’s play of the game by someone else. In fact, over the past week, I spent hours skimming through my favorite scenes of the game in ten or so different let’s plays, and being unable to believe how different the impression of the game was split among everyone.
Like, in my playthrough I felt like this slightly awkward adolescent girl trying to hold my crumbling school life together by acting nice to people and doing everything I could not to let the only guy that was nice to me drift to someone else as I was too busy trying to stop my crazy friend from getting herself constantly killed. Now I check other people, and I see them instead going Thelma and Louise against the world in their playthroughs, all the way to LGBT haven. The story seemed kinda the same superficially, but it felt like a completely different game to me from their perspective.
Not only all your choices sometimes add tiny variations to dialogue, the very action of consciously making a choice actually affects your perception of an otherwise identical conversations later. Not to mention tiny stuff, like if you don’t keep checking your phone constantly and don’t explore the environment Max eventually stops answering Warren’s messages and the whole thing just starts looking sad, while if you keep looking out for him Max sounds almost like she’s the one more into their date (especially if you also leave messages on his door slate… that no one except for me seem to ever find xD). It’s a small detail, but it completely changes how otherwise same scenes come off to you later.
I was originally really worried about the time rewind mechanic undermining the point of choices, but not only it doesn’t do so, it actually adds a whole new layer of complexity to them if anything. After all, making a choice, and then choosing to rewind and change it, is also a choice, isn’t it? And then it’s also an amazing tool to play around with various outcomes and what if scenarios, not to mention screwing with people. I think I tried almost all choices whenever I got the chance and I still got a headache trying to decide what should I ultimately pick. If I had this power in real life, I’d die from a nosebleed on my first day.
Then there’s all that insane detail in the environment; your playthrough will literally be twice longer if you’ll care to look and analyze every nook and cranny of the game. Apart from the rewind mechanic, this is where Dontnod pretty much destroys Telltale in my eyes, in which’s games you only get cutscenes and perhaps an off chance to walk down the corridor and pick up an item. In Life of Strange, snooping around the room of a character and deciphering random graffiti on school walls tells more about their lives than a hundred pages of exposition.
And I seriously loved all those places where you could just sit down and relax as Max reflected on what happened thus far, almost like Earthbound’s tea parties (those were like my favorite parts of that game).
My only real gripe with the game is that despite establishing all those interesting minor characters that seem to be living their own lives (that you can involve yourself with) you never really get a proper closure for most of their relationships.
I would’ve appreciated at least some sort of “what happened later” with them in the credits. It probably would’ve pissed fewer people off if that was present too, as it would’ve added a more tangible proof of your choices affecting the conclusion of the game (seriously guys, you can’t expect a game to split into fifty different paths and endings and not be made in MS paint). I imagine they didn’t want to boggle down the emotional impact of their ending with long-winded after stories, but I seriously wanted to see more of Max and Warren in the aftermath. They were just so incredibly cute communicating to each other in movie references (I still can’t get over the fact her online handle is Mad Max xD) and dumb science puns, not to mention all their cringeworthy fails to try and speak cool.
In the end, to me, Life is Strange was neither a story about time travelers, nor serial killers, or even the goddamn apocalypse — I felt like those were all just details in one girl’s amazing journey to learn the importance of actually making choices and accepting their repercussions. The whole thing seems so straightforward yet can be interpreted in so many ways when you think about it (not sure how much of that was intentional though). For all I know, the whole plot of the game could have been a delusion as her mind was unable to cope with the traumatic event that propelled the adventure.
Anyway, the more you’ll be able to get yourself immersed into the world of this game, the more you’ll like it, and I can totally see some people being unable to get into it at all for one thing or another (I’ve seen different let’s players break into tears or go “whaaaaat” in the very same scenes). Most certainly one of the more polarizing games I’ve ever played. But damn, did I have a blast with this one.
|Attractive and plentiful character designs not to mention amazing realistic motion capture and facial expression animation||One of the endings feels a bit half-assed, almost as if it was only present to give you a tough choice|
|Fantastic cinematography||I feel like the minor characters didn’t receive proper closure, could’ve used an extra epilogue|
|Detailed, rich environment design||I would’ve appreciated more romance|
|Fantastic music, from background OST to licensed songs|
|Great voice-acting, especially Max’s|
|Extremely immersing, mysterious, yet soothing atmosphere|
|Incredibly likable, interesting, profound characters|
|Max is one of the most relatable protagonists I’ve encountered in a game|
|Well-written, rich dialogue full of absolutely hilarious teenager lingo|
|A well thought-out story that touches on a lot of sensitive subjects|
|Enthralling plot full of awesome twists|
|Lots of effective funny moments|
|Full of poignant emotional moments|
|A very interesting and novel approach to time-traveling|
|A fantastic ending if you play your choices right|
|Lots of tough moral choices that change the flavor of adventure if not necessarily its general destination|
|Time rewind mechanic is insanely fun to play around with|
|Does a fantastic job at combining storytelling and exploration|
|Thought-provoking on importance of choice and responsibility|