At the risk of sounding like the man, I don’t like Life is Strange. It’s anarchistic storyline, frothing with teenage angst, feels shrill to my twenty-something mindset. That being said, I believe that I’m stuck in a generational black hole, too young to relate to the games sense of nostalgia and too old to relate to its rebellious spirit. While I might not like Life is Strange, I understand the game and appreciate it for what it is trying to capture.
You play as Maxine Caulfield, a Polaroid-popping, high school student, returning to her hometown of Arcadia Bay to study photography at the prestigious Blackwall Academy. After having a vision of the town’s imminent demise, Max discovers that she has the ability to rewind time and alter her future.
It is at this point most videogames would take this concept and barrel towards a high octane, high stakes story. However, Life is Strange restrains itself to a much smaller scale. Max doesn’t have a world ending crisis to use her new found powers against. Max wants to scrape through high school and maybe make some friends. In a refreshing twist, her time travel powers are used to this end.
The majority of the first episode of Life is Strange is spent properly introducing yourself to your new classmates and the game deserves a lot of credit for capturing just how awkward that can be. It doesn’t help that Max is a nervous wreck, wanting to be noticed by her classmates while at the same time, hoping that they don’t. However, fantastic voice acting and writing on her behalf means that you will either like or pity her. Either way you’re on her side.
And then there are the others. The same quality of writing bestowed upon Max is inconsistently sprinkled across the rest of the cast. Some are one-dimensional, others are straight up obnoxious, and the lot of them sample slang from at least a dozen different decades. It’s enough to put an end to the nostalgia trip.
Gameplay in Life is Strange may feel a little familiar. In fact, Life is Strange looks familiar in a lot of ways. This is because the game borrows mechanics, structuring and even the interface from Telltale Games. While the game tries to have a different art style, which I can only describe as being Instagram-ish, it still ends up looking like it could be the newest entry in The Walking Dead series. However, their formula is still the best at delivering narrative driven gameplay, so it’s hard to find any faults on that end.
The one mechanic that is new is time travel and it does its best to upset this formula. While earlier games like The Walking Dead and The Wolf Amongst Us lock you into your choices, Life is Strange allows you to skip back and forth at will. You get to see the short-term consequences of your actions and learn from them. With that information you can make sure you always have the right answer and know what to say.
Life is Strange uses fantastical elements to explore a very human story. The underlying time-travel mechanic effectively blends both gameplay and narrative together in a graceful and unique way. While a lot of the side characters feel more like cardboard cut-outs, Max’s story provides the soul that ties it all together.
This review was conducted on the PC. Life is Strange: Episode 1 is available on PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.