I’m not a very patient guy. Making me wait for something always gets me all antsy. This is precisely why I’m not the biggest fan of the latest trend of episodic gaming. Having to wait for the next episode to drop to continue a game since it’s not ready would seem very excruciating to me. While I have played Telltale’s first season of The Walking Dead, I waited for all episodes to be released. When the entire season was available, I went and got all episodes. Frankly, I’m glad I did as I blew through each episode in record speed.
Even with that in mind, I did want to try out and feel what a majority of gamers experience when they plunge into a game that’s released in installments. I want to feel the anxiety of waiting and then, when the next episode becomes available, eagerly downloading it and playing it until you get to the end of that episode. And repeating the entire cycle until the game is finished. Well, I decided to try it with the new episodic series from Dontnod called Life is Strange.
In Life is Strange, you play as Max Caulfield, an 18-year old high school girl. She recently moved back to the sleepy town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon to study photography. Oh, and she can rewind time. She discovers this ability after witnessing a murder in the girl’s bathroom and uses her new power to prevent it from ever happening. Her time travelling ability will probably be put into good use as she investigates the mystery of Rachel Amber, a girl who went missing under mysterious circumstances, a possible disaster hitting Arcadia Bay and, most importantly, navigate the dangerous social minefield that is the life of a teenage girl.
The first thing that struck me about Life is Strange is how it doesn’t feel like your typical adventure game. The game does try to suck you in with its indie film vibe… which I thought would suck. But Dontnod manages to avoid making the game some angst filled teenage drama and actually make an intriguing game. Think of it like a mix of Juno and Veronica Mars. The game does a fabolous job of sucking you in with its atmosphere. In just the first couple of minutes of the game, Life is Strange sets up the tone of its world perfectly. Heck, the opening credits of the game does a great job by itself!
Like The Walking Dead before it, Life is Strange isn’t exactly an “open world” game. You can explore the current area you’re in to your heart’s content but you won’t be able to return until the game allows you! So you better do everything you want in that area before moving on to the next plot point. Thankfully, exploring each area is never boring. There’s a lot of people to talk to as well as things to interact with. Each area is littered with posters and flyers so there’s no shortage of things to read. Also, I don’t think the game will let you leave a location until you’ve done what’s needed to be done to move the plot along.
The graphics, while not spectacular, are still beautiful to look at. It looks like Dontnod used some kind of Photoshop filter in the game… which is oddly appropriate as our main character is a photography buff. The characters are detailed enough so that you can see enough detail to distinguish each character from each other. However, they went overboard with the filter when you look at the posters. They all look like watercolor and/or pastel paintings, which makes them look surreal. Not a game changer but a strange design decision nonetheless.
The voice acting is amazing for the most part. Each character does manage to convey their personality through they way they speak. Kudos to the voice actresses of Max Caulfield and Chloe Price as they are definitely the standouts, which is great since they are the main characters and you’ll probably be hearing a lot from them throughout the entire 5 episode adventure.
While the voice performances are fantastic, the dialogue leaves a lot to be desired. Besides the main characters who have really realistic things to say for the most part, the rest of the supporting cast’s dialogue comes off as… douche-y and fake. From the main supporting cast like Mark Jefferson, the highly acclaimed photographer-slash-mentor of Max, to the bit players including Daniel, the nerd who keeps getting picked on by bullies. Even Max, who comes off rather likable, does have a really hipster side I hate that’s really obvious when she starts spouting off the names of her favorite photographers and just being a “photo nerd.” Part of the issue is that the entire cast of characters are basically stereotypes you’ve seen in movies and TV. It’s not a bad thing; it does make them easy to pigeonhole and understand their motivations quickly. Guess it fits the “indie movie” feel?
Also, while Max does have the power to turn back time to re-do some actions, it’s never really fully utilized in fun and creative ways. I was rather disappointed with how shallow the time travel experience was overall. Oh, it’s fun to make a choice and then rewind time to explore a different option and some of the puzzles that use it are creative. In fact, based on this episode alone, Life is Strange would’ve worked even without the time travelling gimmick. It is the first episode so maybe all of the good stuff is reserved for later episodes.
The story, at least the bits we can see in Episode 1, is pretty intriguing. There are multiple story arcs happening at the same time and there’s bound to be one that’s going to draw you in. For me, there are two in particular I’m interested in. The first one involves the disappearance of Rachel Amber. As she vanished under mysterious circumstances, there are a lot of suspicious people hanging around Arcadia Bay that could be suspects or just red herrings. The second story that’s holding my attention is Kate Marsh’s story. She’s a classmate of Max’s and very religious. Her beliefs have made her the target of bullies. There’s also an interesting story point in the middle of the game that I can’t reveal but does make me think there’s more to her than meets the eye.
Being that this is my first time playing an episodic game the way it was meant to be played (buy an episode and wait for the next one to come out), I’m glad Life is Strange was the game. It’s a great game and I’m honestly looking forward to the next episode which comes out next month. I do wish they do more with Max’s ability to rewind time in the upcoming episodes, though. Still, it’s a phenomenal game and I had a great time playing it.
I do wish I waited for the entire thing to be complete, though. March seems like a long time to wait…
Have you played Life is Strange? What did you think of it? Let me know in the comments section below.