Life Is Strange – Episode 1 Review
Fresh off the presses from studio DONTNOD, “Life Is Strange” is a 5-part episodic visual drama that follows protagonist Max Caulfield, as she discovers that… life. is. strange.
The hook is that Max suddenly discovers she can reverse time. How she uses this power, and the consequences of those decisions, are up to you!
TLDR; If you enjoyed Gone Home and Tell Tale’s “The Walking Dead”, you will probably like “Life Is Strange”.
After living elsewhere for five years, Max Caulfield (photography student / main character) returns to Arcadia Bay, Oregon, to attend her final year of high school under the inspiring tutelage of famous photographer, Mark Jefferson. While in photography class Max experiences what she believes to be a daydream. In the dream she is confronted by a large storm heading towards Arcadia Bay. The nearby lighthouse gives way in the storm, crushing Max, and waking her from the dream. After class she retreats to the restroom to wash her face. There is a confrontation in the restroom between the town rich-kid Nathan Prescott and soon-to-be-discovered-former-best-friend Chloe. Nathan brandishes a gun and shoots Chloe. Max attempts to move towards Chloe, but experiences a ‘time-rewind’, which puts her back in class. She uses her new found power to prevent Chloe from getting shot. Later, they reconnect and we discover that despite being former best friends, Max had not contacted Chloe for the five years she had been gone. Chloe’s biological father died the same year Max left and Chloe befriended Rachel Amber, who offered support. Later, Rachel went missing. Max and Chloe visit Chloe’s house, then visit the same lighthouse from Max’s dream. She has another vision of the tornado, this time accompanied with a newspaper indicating that the storm is only days in the future. She snaps out of the vision and divulges to Chloe that she can reverse time and has been seeing the future. Initially Chloe doesn’t believe her, but it begins to snow. The sudden climate change foreshadows a storm is coming. Episode 1 ends with Chloe wanting to know everything about Max’s power.
Where to begin? I enjoyed LIS. It wasn’t revolutionary, but it felt good to play. It’s hard for me to play a game like Gone Home or LIS and really relate to the characters or setting. My pre-college experience just wasn’t the same as those depicted, and the small town where I lived was neither on the coast, nor in the north-west/mid-east. However, despite having not ‘lived’ that life, I feel that ‘Gone Home’ helped me vicariously experience something. LIS is similar in this regard; holistically, LIS (Episode 1, at least) is built and presented well enough, riddled with appropriate amounts of indecision and teenage angst. Oh, and time travel.
The time travel mechanic allows Max to rewind time about 10 minutes. Sometimes she is restricted to a shorter time, or no rewind at all given the circumstances. This mechanic allows players to make decisions, see the immediate consequence, and rewind if necessary. Let’s be clear on two things up front: 1. Notice that I wrote ‘immediate consequence’, and 2. This would be the coolest power to have in High School. In a sense, it is a try-before-you-buy way of going about paving the story, but decisions have consequences, much like Tell Tale’s “The Walking Dead”; a good decision in the short-term may ‘butterfly-effect’ and resolve poorly for a character. LIS’s writers did well to force just enough mandatory story at the player. There is the case of Rachel Amber being missing, and the circumstances surrounding the event. When pressed, several characters indicate that there may be a more sinister plot. Regarding Max and Chloe, there are several lines of dialog that may indicate that the two were ‘involved’, and that after Max left, Rachel replaced her as more than Chloe’s BFF. Beyond the few sprinkling of necessary exposition, Players are left to explore and uncover additional information.
“Life Is Strange” is powered by the Unreal engine, and looks fantastic! I really like the cartoon style; it isn’t too unrealistic (except for the hair).
Unfortunately, DONTNOD skimped on the lip-syncing of dialog to character animations. Exhibit A…
Overall, I enjoyed playing Episode 1 of DONTNOD’s new title “Life Is Strange”. Perhaps a let’s-play is in store, but until then, if you enjoyed playing Alan Wake, Gone Home, or The Walking Dead, LIS:E1 is a quality $5 investment. It’s available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. Thanks for reading.