Life Is Strange Review

Written by Rick Lane

October 22, 2015 | 11:40

Tags: #life-is-strange #the-walking-dead #twin-peaks

Companies: #dontnod-entertainment #square-enix

It's easily the best conceived character partnership since that of Lee and Clementine in the first season of The Walking Dead, and its nuance and earnestness helps it power through the odd bit of cloying sentimentality, or a wince-inducing use of made-up teenage jargon. Life Is Strange bears similarities to Telltale's work in other ways, mainly through the somewhat limited level of interaction, and its deployment of difficult player choices at key stages in the narrative.

Life Is Strange Review

On the whole, Life Is Strange is more interactive than Telltale's games. The environments are crammed with object and details that flesh out the world and the characters within them and each chapter segment usually revolves around a central puzzle that usually involves Max's time reversal ability. For example, the second chapter requires Max to convince Chloe that her time-manipulation is real, which she does by accurately guessing the contents of Chloe's pockets. None of the puzzles are particularly memorable, but they're engaging enough, and are nicely balanced to avoid feeling too obstructive.

The narrative choices stick far more prominently in the mind, often forcing you to decide between doing the "right" thing that will be hurtful to someone close, or helping someone close in a way that may come back to bite everybody later on. A good early example sees a quiet, mousy student called Kate being yelled at and threatened by David. Here you can choose either to intervene directly or to take a photograph of the exchange to use as a bargaining chip a later date. In this case, what you do isn't as important as what you are seen to be doing.

Life Is Strange Review

Should you feel uncertain about your decision, the time-reversal ability lets you explore the immediate consequences of both options. This is a nice way to see more of the game without necessitating a replay. Crucially though, it doesn't negate the importance of making a choice, as many of the eventualities don't actually play out until much later in the story.

And there are some pretty dramatic consequences to your actions. People will live or die depending on the decisions you make. Friendships and relationships can fall apart, and people's view of Max will radically change, affecting later conversations and decisions. The game does force the narrative in a certain direction from time to time, but far less so than was the case in, say, The Walking Dead. The time travel aspect also helps the designers smooth out any creases in this regard too.

Life Is Strange Review

In terms of individual episodes, the quality increases fairly consistently up to Episode 4, which is easily the strongest episode both in terms of storytelling and puzzling. The sequence during which Chloe and Max piece together the evidence they've collected over the duration of the episode involves some proper deduction on the player's part, looking through the accumulated paperwork and connecting the dots.

Sadly, by comparison episode 5 is a letdown. There are some powerful and exceptionally chilling sequences as the dark presence haunting Arcadia Bay is finally revealed, but these are interspersed with frequent, disorienting reality jumps and several scenes that feel distinctly like filler. In particular, a dream sequence that occurs near the very end is completely unnecessary and drawn out to the point of tedium. The conclusion itself is strong, but I was more than ready for it by the time it arrived.

Life Is Strange Review

Still, the journey is more than worth the slightly meandering sprint toward the game's final destination. Life Is Strange effectively blends teenage politicking with a captivating central mystery, and a dramatic, changeable narrative. But there's more to it than the central plot thrusts. Threaded through its pacey drama and agonising twists are quietly beautiful moments where the warmth of humanity shines through the grime. This could take the form of a gorgeous montage of travel through Arcadia Bay's quaintly idyllic streets, or a scene of Max and Chloe enjoying their friendship, chatting in the diner, dancing in Chloe's bedroom, holding hands as they walk along a trainline. Life may be strange, but it's moments like these which make it worth enduring.
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