CHOOSE WISELY…OR MAYBE NOT
Life is Strange. This title, while simple, perfectly captures both the main ideas from the game itself and an understanding of humanity that we all can comprehend. In this subtle way, DONTNOD has created a connection to the player and the game, before the story is even started.
Set in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, Life is Strange‘s main plot centers on the young photography student Max Cawfield. Almost immediately, it is apparent that there is something very different about this small town on the Oregon coast. The game’s opening finds Max near a lighthouse on a coastal cliffside, with a very large impending tornado in the distance. Moving towards the lighthouse, a boat is tossed by the storm into the side of the structure, which then topples on top of you. Then suddenly you wake up in Max’s art class, back into the real world from what seemed like a very bad dream. From here, Max continues life as normal and heads to the bathroom to clear her mind. In short order, a series of unfortunate events cause Max to realize that she has been unknowingly gifted with time travel powers. At this point the game opens up considerably, giving the player the choice to try out many different scenarios when interacting with other people.
The first thing that should be apparent to the player is how different this game is in the visual department. In contrast to Telltale’s work, every scene is aesthetically pleasing and is vastly different in its own way. The visual style very much feels like playing inside the mind of a young adult, truly experiencing the world for the first time, which is the exact atmosphere I believe the developer was going for.
In terms of plot, while fairly linear, it is a good introduction to the characters that will shape the story in the episodes to come. The dialogue between people feels quite natural, but there were a few instances of cringe-worthy choices in dialogue. This is in part due to the script’s desire to feel trendy and “hip” for the player and more often than not, it ended up being a downfall to the story it is trying to tell.
Ultimately, the introduction and use of the main gameplay mechanic of time travel took center stage in this episode. It provided an interesting way to see the various outcomes of important decisions; however it often felt like this mechanic removed a large amount of the impact in decision making. The strength that Telltale utilizes in their games is the use of timed choices. It gives the player a sense of urgency and ownership of the decision that they end up making. In Life is Strange, this ownership is almost invalidated by the resetting of time and seeing each reaction in the moment. While there is a limit to this (the game restricts players from making changes after leaving an area) the feeling of decision making still seems wrong in some way. The time travel mechanic also introduced some interesting ways to solve puzzles throughout the game. Making a decision and seeing the immediate result allowed for some foresight not commonly found in other games. Surprisingly, this was definitely the best use of the time travel mechanic in the game, so it was disappointing that it was not utilized more during the regular gameplay portions.
The Verdict: 7.9 out of 10
Life is Strange‘s first episode was a decent start for DONTNOD’s newest game, but it was certainly not perfect. Several cringe-worthy choices in dialogue and the lack of feeling like my decisions made an impact definitely hurt the final result. Despite this, DONTNOD have the beginnings of a potentially worthy entry in the adventure game genre.
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