Review: Life is Strange

Now that Life is Strange is available as a complete game at retail and on digital store fronts, it is a great time to look at why people, including yours truly, love it so much. Episode 1 was released when I was losing my patience with Telltale Games and getting soured on episodic games in general. I decided to give this a shot because the trailer had great music and the premise was interesting. The trailer reminded me of TV shows like The O.C., which I enjoyed watching years ago; and Scrubs, for the music. Looking back at Life is Strange as a whole, Dontnod has pushed the adventure genre ahead and raised the bar for episodic games as a whole.

Life is Strange has you playing as Max Caulfield, a photography student at Blackwell Academy. There’s time travel, emotion, horror, and tons of drama within his game. Max discovers she can rewind time in an incident involving her ex-best friend Chloe.

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As each episode progresses, Max makes decisions that save or kill certain people and the subsequent story is different and reactive to the choices you made. This is something I loved about Life is Strange when I replayed it by making different choices. Most episodic games have meaningless choices for the most part, but not this one.

Max and Chloe catch up to make up for lost time while interacting with everyone in and around Blackwell Academy. Even minor NPCs have their own personalities and this makes the whole thing feel real. There will be characters you can save and others you can’t.

Each time you make a decision, the small jingle that plays indicating an important decision will make you question yourself. Early on, I redid a few things and you only have a small window before which your decision is locked in permanently. The end of the fifth episode was a tad disappointing in comparison to the build up and a bit too predictable for my liking, but this is my only complaint with the story.

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Gameplay is similar to Telltale’s episodic stuff, where you essentially explore and find key items or talk to certain people to progress the story. The twist here is you can rewind some decisions to bring out different outcomes. There are some annoying sections involving finding bottles that felt completely unnecessary. There’s also a stealth section towards the end that did not fit with the rest of the game.

Exploring will reward you with some backstory and the ability to take a photograph using your camera. After taking my first photograph in-game, I found myself exploring a lot more and some of the photograph windows show up at the most unexpected places. This gives it a bit of replay value for non-story sections as there are achievements for taking every possible photograph in each episode.

Visually, most things look great, including character models and the indoor areas, but there’s a lot of inconsistency. In some areas, it is easy to see more care was put into the characters than the environment as textures randomly look out of place along flat foliage. There’s also the issue with lip sync even in the final release that made it a lot better.

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Music and the voice acting are both superb. The soundtrack features great music from Syd Matters, Jose Gonzalez, alt-J, and more, and every character voice has been done brilliantly. Ashly Burch as Chloe in particular is a standout performance. Barring the licensed tracks, Jonathan Moralli has done some stellar work with atmospheric and acoustic instruments to set the mood for the game.

Life is Strange is one of my favourite games from last year even with its minor flaws and pacing issues. If you enjoy story-telling and want to play something where your choices actually matter, and enjoyed TV shows like The O.C. or Scrubs, give Life is Strange a shot. It makes every other similar game feel amateur.

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