Life is Strange (Episode 1)

Short of a long, waxed beard; cafes where non-coffee drinks are served in jars; and black, square-rimmed glasses,  Life is Strange is the epitome of hipster. The main character, Maxine, uses an old Polaroid camera; gets bullied by a short-haired girl who uses an iPhone and looks like her wardrobe came from the 70s (ironically bullied about being a hipster); and listens to some of the softest spoken, airy-fairy music I have ever heard.

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See!

Now that I’ve gotten that out of the way, Life is Strange is an interactive puzzle mystery with a very unique puzzle element. Maxine is able to rewind time and change her last decision or two. The includes any conversations, interacting with the world, and essentially anything where a conscious choice on her part can change the outcome. Maxine has the power of limited hindsight.

The puzzles themselves are often based around hindsight. The very first one, you are able to answer a question after somebody else already answered. The game continues to follow this theme of the “do-over”. If you knew everything you did now, would you make the decisions you did? What would you change if you could? If you knew that person would have reacted like that, would you have said those things? If you knew the ending of Lost, would you have spent eight years watching it? But changing the past can unknown effects on the future. You have to watch out for that butterfly effect. Because the game transitions from one scene to the next, your actions are locked in, so there’s not too much rewinding of time.

This puzzle mechanic ties perfectly in with the setting of late-teens, high school, the point in everyone’s life where they make the stupidest, yet most insignificant mistakes. Life is Strange is set on a northern US coastline (not sure if east or west, probably same place as Twilight as that area of the US seems to spawn teen angst) at Blackwell Academy, a typical American high school (excepting for the boarding part). Kids wear casual clothes and leave classes as soon as the bell rings, rather than being dismissed. The photography teacher really pushes his “life lessons, inspirations, sitting on tables” vibe. Girls are bitches because they can be and Maxine is an outsider because she’s shy or something like that.

Not being from the US or a teenager, some of significance and culture surrounding the situations and conversations is a little bit lost on me, but I still felt a lot of the dialogue was a tad forced with the Instagram, Twittering and other things that were cool with the youth about five years ago.

While I’m winging about cliches, Life is Strange also moves away from a few. The main character has two, loving parents (what I can gather from her texts anyway). There is some casual drug use, typical of older teenagers. The conversations also seem very organic in nature, less of an imparting of information to the player and more of a natural interaction between two people.

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As you explore the school, the dorm and other locations, there is a surprising amount to interact with as well as people to talk to. Little objects on shelves give a surprising amount of insight into Maxine’s memories and the people around her. You’re drawn into a plausible world with mostly plausible individuals. The story has enough to keep you playing and doesn’t saturate you in the teenage-y crap.

While this review is only for the first game, I plan to continue playing. I’m interested to see where it’s going and where it ends. Not to mention I want to see the consequences of my actions (which hopefully aren’t arbitrary). I might do a quick note once I’ve finished the series.

Rating Innovation

 The setting and characters aren’t particularly unique (asides from being somewhat realistic), but as I’ve never seen this puzzle mechanic before (or at least done this way), it’s worth playing just for that.

Excellence

A lot of detail has gone into creating a believable world with believable characters. The graphics are nothing to rave about – if anything they should be better – but they don’t need to be as this is a story-focused game.

Conclusion

While you shouldn’t expect too much (if any) dynamic game play, Life is Strange is well-worth the price if you enjoy a highly detailed, fleshed-out interactive story … provided you can move past the teenage setting.

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Life is Strange (all episodes) is currently available on Steam, Xbox Store, the Square-Enix Store and the Playstation Store for $19.99 USD or you can get the first episode on Steam, Xbox Store, the Square-Enix Store and the Playstation Store for $4.99 USD. You can then pick up the remaining episodes (2 – 5) on Steam, Xbox Store, the Square-Enix Store, and the Playstation Store for $16.99 USD
 The next review in 3 weeks will be on A Bird Story (with a small look back at To the Moon)
Next time
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