Ah, early adulthood. That time in life when you transition from being a child to being a productive member of society. The time when the way others interact with you, and you with them changes. When the entire world seems filled with limitless possibilities and countless dangers. These are all things that Max, the protagonist of Life is Strange, has to contented with. Unlike most teenagers though, she can rewind time. An ability that some people would love to have but which itself can be a curse; especially when you know something catastrophic will happen in the future and you may not be able to prevent it.
This first episode, “Chrysalis,” mostly deals with introducing us to Max and her world. She’s attending the prestigious Blackwell University where she is majoring in photography. Max is a bit of a geek so she doesn’t exactly fit in. She has to deal with things likes boys, catty girls, and trying to avoid asshole adults. She mysteriously gains the ability to rewind time after seeing a future where her hometown is destroyed by a monster tornado. This is obviously the big threat that she will have to be dealt with, but for this episode it’s really more about establishing Max and her relationships.
Adventure games, especially these days, are about making decisions that have lasting consequences. Life is Strange isn’t any different. But, you can alter your decisions which makes the usual anxiety that goes with playing games in this genre fade somewhat. With that said, there are certain forks in the road where no choice seems advantageous since you end up hurting someone or yourself. It is an interesting twist to the adventure game formula though, and I liked it.
Rewinding time isn’t only limited to altering dialogue choices. In fact, for some puzzles, you actually have to mess up to find out how to do things correctly. For example, I had to make Max get a tool kit which was on top of a laundry machine. I have to turn the machine on so its vibrations would cause the tool kit to fall. However, the kit falls behind a desk that Max can’t reach. When you rewind time and look around, you see that you can slide a flat cardboard box under the desk. When you turn on the washing machine, the kit will land on the box and you can then slide it out from underneath and get it. There are many occasions where trial and error are a vital gameplay element but it isn’t annoying in any way.
The tone of Life is Strange was… I wouldn’t say dark, but it had disturbing moments. Time travel powers aside, this story deals with people, young adults specifically, and because of that, things can get pretty messed up. I won’t spoil things here, but themes of molestation, abortion, mental and physical abuse, as well as drug use are all touched on. The game deals with certain things that you don’t normally see in video games and it was a nice change of pace. The game is a great example of how video games are as capable of handling mature subject matter as skillfully as any other form of media.
As far as aesthetics go, Life is Strange has a very “painterly” look to it. Characters and backgrounds have a slight brush stroke effect on them. At first I thought it was bad textures but after seeing how pictures and posters are full on paintings, I realized the rest of the game is just a subtle version of that. The backgrounds themselves are very simplistic looking but given how visually pleasing the lighting and colors are, this can be forgiven. Characters aren’t very detailed either but they have a wide range of facial expressions which convey at lot of emotions. Overall the visuals are pleasing to the eye and fit the tone of the game in an interesting dichotomous way.
This first episode of Life is Strange was a nice set up for things to come. I’m invested in the characters and seeing how they will deal with the oncoming storm. I’m also curious to see how Max gained her abilities and hope it’s not something hokey. I have a feeling that this game is hiding something special and it will slowly reveal this as the episodes are released. I also hope that future episodes continue to push the boundaries with taboo subjects we don’t normally see in games.
Life is Strange Episode One is a fantastic start to a new franchise.
This review of Life is Strange is based on a digital review copy for the PlayStation 4 provided by Square-Enix.