Originally released in 2015 as five separate episodes, Life is Strange was one of those games that seemed to come from nowhere from French developer Dontnod Entertainment. More than just a game title, “Life is Strange” feels like a shared expression that unites each of the characters you encounter throughout the game who are all dealing with their own problems and anxieties including; teen pregnancy, bullying, fear of rejection and suicide. Oh yeah, and time travel!
The main protagonist of the game is Max Caulfield, an 18-year-old shy student and a budding photographer attending a prestigious academy in her old hometown. Early in the first episode, Max discovers she has the ability to rewind time which she uses to her own advantages in social situations and class. By rewinding conversations with other characters you open up further options with how you interact with them. For example, if Max already knows how somebody is going to react to what she says, she can rewind time and avoid a potential faux pas. Or if asked to speak up in class she can wait to hear the answer to a question before rewinding time and seeming the perfect student.
In this manner, the game can feel quite authentic. Afterall, how else would a typical teenager use the ability to time travel other than to fit in? However, there is also a downside to this in that it can make the choices you make seem quite shallow and insignificant. Whilst the consequences of Max’s decisions do intensify as the story unfolds, these seemingly shallow choices can make the game seem juvenile in the early episodes.
The story does begin to come into its stride in later episodes. We learn that the game’s setting, Arcadia Bay, isn’t the picturesque seaside town it claims to be. Instead, it is rife with mystery, missing girls and a long history of violence and corruption. As well as this, Max develops her abilities and the game uses this as a clever way to introduce puzzles for the player to work out how to navigate the environment and escape situations. With this development, Max also begins to learn the consequences to her time travelling and must decide to either live with them or risk changing them.
As you play, Max is accompanied by childhood best friend, and teen tearaway, Chloe Price, as you uncover the secrets of the town and its inhabitants whilst trying to find Chloe’s missing girlfriend, Rachel Amber. Max and Chloe’s relationship is one of the shining lights of the game as the two characters re-ignite their friendship through their investigation and more light-hearted moments like sneaking into the pool late at night or taking a selfie. The supernatural aspects of Max’s power actually tends to take a backseat to the two friends’ relationship and often feels more like a plot device than the core element to the story.
The game also benefits from some surprisingly likeable supporting characters. Despite their archetype roles such as the bitchy girl, the popular cheerleader, the science nerd and jock. The game does a pretty good job at giving some of these characters a little more depth.
The gameplay is pretty simple as you walk around the environments and use one button to rewind time and another to interact with objects. However, whilst limiting in its approach the game encourages you to engage and interact with everything in the environment and through these quieter moments you discover the real beauty of Life is Strange. Some of my favourite moments in the game were when it left you to your own devices and you could explore the environments at your own pace.
The soundtrack to the game is also one of its biggest successes in making the game feel like a teen drama. With artists such alt-j, Bright Eyes and Syd Matters, the soundtrack is used brilliantly to add to the teen angst and genuinely makes you feel like your character is in an episode of the O.C.
The visuals of Life is Strange are nothing ground breaking. Yet, it is a gorgeous game to play. Seriously, the whole thing feels like it was put through an Instagram filter and it looks glorious. From the sunset shining through Max’s dorm room window to the cold interior of a basement in a later level, the game has a clear art style that is consistent throughout.
Over the course of the five episodes, Life is Strange, really grows into its own. Whilst the rewind mechanics and choices you make can seem a little trivial and arguably pointless when the story comes to an end, the game takes a surprisingly complex look at teen life and deals with issues maturely and respectfully. The relationship between Max and Chloe is the real gem here and before the games’ final credits roll you may find yourself making a particularly difficult decision that will make most gamers sob.