Square Enix’s latest release, Life Is Strange, is an episodic drama game centered on story and character development. The game consists of five episodes, of which the first released on 30th of January. The rest will be released over the coming months with a six week gap between releases.
Trying to fit in as a teenager is hard. Welcome to Max Caulfield’s life. She is so normal yet so different from what everyone wants her to be. As anyone who has been through those high school years It’s easy to relate to her struggles. There is so much pressure, bulling and confusion in those years. This is what this game portrays really well.
Max is a photography student that is adjusting to her high school life at Blackwell Academy. One day as her photography class ends she goes to the bathroom to unwind. Moments later she is a witness of a brutal murder by one of the students in her school. As Max sees this she raises her hands and is miraculously sent back to her classroom reliving the same events before the shooting. She discovers that she has a power to rewind time.
With her new-found ability she is given a choice to change the flow of conversations with fellow classmates and teachers. As the game explains she can now use her power to change past, present and future. The game will guide you with an icon as to what new conversations you have unlocked and which actions are important to the story. The game makes you feel as if each action is important.
Choices are thought out well. Most of them will reflect negatively in some way, but from a real life perspective this is how most choices in real life are. There is no right or wrong choice. So even though Max has this remarkable power she can only do so much as steer some actions in a certain direction. Only you can decide what is right in a given moment. For example, are you going to protect your friend from the bullying of the school guard and make him more suspicious of you or are you going to keep quiet, take a photo and possibly ruin your relationship? These kinds of moral dilemmas are what makes Life is Strange so special.
There is so much detail put into the environments. You can feel that a lot of love and effort went into making this game. There are pictures and posters everywhere which you can read. Dorm rooms are intricately decorated and reflect the personality of the student that lives there. Max’s journal is done very well. This is what makes the game shine. There are numerous art references in the game, particularly about famous photographers and history of photography as Max herself aspires to be a photographer. There are also references to today’s popular culture, notorious exploitation films, old tv series etc. These references add an additional layer of depth to the characters. For instance, Max’s friend Warren which she famously friend zones at every turn is an avid film fanatic and gives Max a flash drive with some of the most infamous films like the Cannibal Holocaust and Ultra Vixens to name a few.
The narrative follows a certain path, but as events unfold I hope that in the second and later episodes your choices will have more of an impact on the overall story. As far as the story in the first episode goes character’s destinies are intertwined in interesting and unexpected ways. There is just enough drama and mystery that is needed for the game’s narrative flow. Even the typical stereotype characters like a jock, the popular rich girl or a typical cheerleader get their own background and feel like more than what their stereotype represents. The first episode of two and a half hours we get a glimpse of their motivation, internal struggles, and emotions. It is exceptionally well done. I think at this point this is what gaming needs – deep characters with internal conflicts and meaningful complex relationships.
As much I liked Life Is Strange there were a few issues. Max can only make photos at appointed places, which was a bit disappointing for a game that centers on you being a photography student. Graphics can look a bit clunky at times, but as story progresses they will grow on you. Some choices don’t have as much impact as expected, but I hope that in the coming episodes the choices you have made previously will come together to form a stronger narrative. Nevertheless, I recommend this game to everyone that want to reminiscence their high school experience and have a penchant for a bit of mystery.
Despite the fact that the potential publishers wanted the game to feature a male protagonist, the developer Dontnod Entertainment stood by their initial design. The publisher of the game became Square Enix which didn’t find anything of fault with the game’s design to feature a female leading role. In context of Gamergate controversy creative director Jean-Maxime Moris has said “we’re not pretending to address the issue or use the issue to stand out from the rest. We’re just making the games we want to make and characters that are suitable for the story; in this case with 2 female characters”.
Life is Strange is an episodic game that is available for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 3, Xbox One and Xbox 360 via digital distribution.