Disclaimer: There Are NO Spoilers in this review.
Wowser. Where to begin?
Life is Strange, indeed. That is a statement that not only applies to all of us, but also to Maxine 'Max' Caulfield, the protagonist of this year's stunning episodic drama.
To those who aren't familiar, this game follows the recipe of an interactive story, where gameplay is less about technical skill or precision and more about tact and decision-making. This was my first entry into this style of game and I have to say.. I couldn't have started with a better title. The idea seemed interesting to me, as I love a great story, even with the thought of minimal "traditional" gameplay sounding somewhat off-putting. You know what they say, though -- "never judge a book by its cover" -- or in this case, a gaming genre.
From the moment I played the demo for the first episode of this game back in January, I was hooked. It had everything. The setting, the characters, the premise; everything. As soon as I finished the episode, I was left wanting so much more! As with episodic games of this nature, we were forced to wait months between each new installment, pondering ideas and creating a multitude of hypotheses. That, to me, foreshadowed that Life is Strange was going to be something special. It spoke to my inner-bookworm, the way that only great works of literature can. It inspired me to think -- something not always shown in gaming nowadays.
The game follows the story of photographer/student Max Caulfield and her unexpected reunion with her childhood best friend, Chloe Price. Max is an amazingly designed character, who I felt I could really connect with. She's a little bit awkward, super witty and full of heart. I think a lot of games could definitely benefit by implementing more strong, female leads, like Max. I love how her design is simple, not overly sexualized and real. Max allows us to see her story through the eyes of an average teenage girl, with not-so-average powers.
After a sequence of events, Max finds out that she has acquired the ability to manipulate time. The game relies heavily on her newfound power to reverse time and alter conversations with others. Sometimes she finds out important info after talking with someone and is able to open up new dialogue options once rewound. Other times, Max is able to stop things from happening to people, after seeing them happen once before. So many possibilities lead to so many varied ways of playing and conversation highlights. Just remember, that with every action, there is a reaction. As you progress through the story, you will come across certain major conversation decisions, which can (and will) alter your experience greatly, depending on what you choose.. so, choose carefully!
All of the characters in Life is Strange felt very real, with each one having a very distinct personality. You will grow attached to some of them and others you will come to despise. I feel the way that DONTNOD portrayed each of their characters and the roles that they played very well. I have only ever felt this moved and invested by a whole cast of characters a few times in gaming. I highly suggest taking the time to speak with everyone you can about everything you are able to. The strongest suit the game boasts is within the story and dialogue (which it does superbly, for the most part), so take the extra time to get to know everything about the world you're in. You can thank me later.
The game takes place in the small, fictional, ocean-side town of Arcadia Bay. Most of your time will be spent around Blackwell High School with your fellow classmates. I felt like I was back in high school myself, wandering through the various locals, observing Max's peers in their day-to-day life. It was very nostalgic, but in the best way. From the moment you step foot out of your first class in episode one and that awesome indie tune "To All of You" by Syd Matters starts playing, the melancholic tone of the game is set.
A plethora of indie tracks litter Life is Strange for your audial enjoyment. Listening to the game was just as much of a joy as playing it. The team really knew their emotional cues, playing the peppier songs at the happiest times and the more sorrowful ones at the exact right moments -- just to grab you directly in the feels. I will never forget the first time the game gripped my heartstrings and played "Obstacles", another beautiful song provided by Syd Matters. Every time I hear that song now (thanks to this game) I have to try really hard not to let the feels take over. Other various artists (Amanda Palmer, Local Natives, Message to Bears, and many others) lend their hand to make the soundtrack come full-circle. This is definitely the best-sounding game of 2015.
As stated in the disclaimer above, I will not be covering any story-specific or "spoiler" topics in this review, but I feel the need to say a few words on my overall experience, having completed all five episodes. The story was fantastic. From start to finish, I was at the edge of my seat and there were moments where I would physically have to get out of my chair and take a walk around my own home, with my hands over my head, just to think about what dialogue choice I was going to make next. It gets that intense at times! However, there were some cheesy moments/dialogue, a lot of unnecessary swearing and a lot of unanswered questions. Episode five was the worst culprit. My main gripe with Life is Strange is that a lot of the last chapter felt rushed. They tried really hard to tie up loose ends, while also leaving others frayed in the process. It definitely doesn't ruin the experience or story at all, but the execution could have been better. I would have been more than willing to purchase another episode if it meant they could have closed the correct doors and shut others properly. Even though I consider the last episode a little sub-par in comparison to the previous four, it definitely still delivered.
I should mention that I played the Xbox 360 copy of Life is Strange and experienced some framerate drops in certain areas of the game, some dialogue would come in before or after the characters were done talking and I would often load into very low-res textures from time to time. I attribute most of these technical issues to me playing it on a dated system, as this game was intended for PC and next-gen (Xbox One, PS4).
Annoyances aside, Life is Strange was an amazing experience. I have seen both endings and while I agree with those who think the endings were too staged, I also think that they were fitting. In the end, after all of the heartache, tension and mystery.. I was happy with my decisions throughout and I really enjoyed my time with this game. I stand by this saying -- "It's not about the end result. It's the adventure getting there". This is exactly how I would describe the game to someone. The adventure, the people you meet along the way and they choices you make; that is the real experience. That is where Life is Strange truly shines.
Life is Strange gets a 4.5/5.