Every once and a while a game comes out of nowhere and surprises me, the first episode of Life is Strange – titled Chrysalis – did that. Dontnod Entertainment’s first episode from five introduces a world full of life, intrigue, and mystery, leaving me craving for more when the credits rolled.
Life is Strange tells the story of Max, a boarding school student caught up in the world of photography and high school life. She’s a bit indie, a bit of a loner, and a bit of a nerd, but she’s relatable and likeable. Past those qualities, she also has the ability to rewind time, changing practically everything happening around her while keeping the same memories and items that had been manifesting before making the jump back. This is the crux of Life is Strange’s story, and while a lot wasn’t particularly given away in terms of the overarching plot that will hold episodes one to five together, it leaves a vast amount of openings available for the writers to explore. Episode One focuses on introducing the player to Arcadia Bay – the setting of Life is Strange, as well as introducing characters that are both likeable and troublesome and establishing the fundamentals of the game. I’m not going to delve further into the specifics of the story as (like many other episodic games) it’s better left to indulge at your own pace, but I really enjoyed the offbeat style of the story, the world and the characters.
Life is Strange thrives off of a choice-based system, much like Telltale’s games, as both choice and consequence push the story forward. Instead of four dialogue options akin to Telltale’s titles, Life is Strange falls on two or three options, the reason being that throughout the episode clues are given during later phases of conversation that can come in handy during the beginning, which in turn opens up the opportunity to rewind time and re-do the conversation to land on a more positive outcome. It’s a bit more forgiving than other games within the genre, but it allows you to double back on your decisions if you don’t think you made the right choice and experiment with outcomes. Being the player I am, I let most things play out and didn’t really worry about rewinding after making a major decision that could jeopardise myself later on in the episode. I like having the ability to understand that my decision wasn’t a good one and it’s what I have to stick with, as the consequences I face are warranted.
There’s a multitude of things to do and explore within the world of Arcadia Bay, with many items comprised of a mini-story that gives the world life.
This system plays an integral part in how your own Life is Strange story plays out and I’m genuinely interested to see what other outcomes players get through their choices. As you’d expect, the ending outcome is the same, but it’s how you get there and how those little choices made may make a larger dent in future episodes. Likewise, there’s a multitude of things to do and explore within the world of Arcadia Bay, with many items comprised of a mini-story that gives the world life. There’s a linear track to follow to progress the story but the game also allows you to investigate the world on your own whim and it benefits from that.
Life is Strange’s gameplay is a bit different. On one hand, it feels like a Telltale game with its choice-based system and dialogue options, whereas on the other hand it plays like a normal third person adventure game – somewhat like Dontnod’s previous title, Remember Me. This blend works in tandem with each other, making for a unique experience that I really appreciated and thoroughly enjoyed engaging in. It goes hand in hand with the ability to freely roam certain areas, like Max’s school or her dormitories, and investigate every finite detail, with some wonderful little easter eggs to discover.
As much as the visual and emotional elements of Life is Strange play an important role in establishing story and immersion, what the game does incredibly well is nail the audio and music. Characters’ dialogue never felt forced, and that brought with it a strong element of relatability and understanding throughout the more intense and dire situations presented. Moreover, the music choices are some of the best I’ve heard in a game of this nature and it evoked the right emotions when it needed to. I’m a bit of a fan when it comes to indie music, and Life is Strange’s indie-esque vibe really catered to that taste.
Something that may not tick with gamers is Life is Strange’s art style. It took me quite some time to really engage with it and understand why Dontnod chose this particular style over everything else, and comparing it to something that has a bit more graphical fidelity like Dragon Age: Inquisition or Far Cry 4 doesn’t help its case, but after a while I grew to love the style of the game as it portrays the world and intrigue of Life is Strange perfectly. This isn’t a game for those with just a graphical eye, and much like Telltale’s games, it’s been designed to specifically fit and compliment the story.
Life is Strange is going to be a game that will feverishly divide opinion. Before I even had the chance to play it, the reaction the game was receiving from a portion of gamers was not positive. Much like Gone Home (which I really enjoyed), the tone of Life is Strange will deter a multitude of people who won’t open up to a new and unique direction in storytelling, and that’s completely ok. Not many games (if any) appeal to absolutely everyone, and Life is Strange certainly won’t appeal to a lot of people. For those who dare to take a step out of their comfort zone however, they’ll find that Life is Strange is if anything an intriguing change in direction from the norm.
Dontnod Entertainment’s first episode of Life is Strange is excellent. It’s a great introduction to the intriguing world of Arcadia Bay and crafts a story that I’m genuinely interested in. It’s a world that I want to be involved in and poke and prod through until the very last item has been found, and while it certainly won’t sit with everyone, those that take the leap to try it out will find that it’s completely worth it. I’m excited to see what the next episode has in store for Max and the gang and with so many avenues to take and choices to make, this game could be the next big thing.
If Episode One is anything to go by, Dontnod’s Life is Strange is a title that fans of story-driven games can’t miss.
A review copy was supplied by the publisher.