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Life is Strange

Life is Strange Life is Strange : A Game Review by Tab Olsen

Whatever you do, don’t research Life is Strange before playing it! I normally don’t mind spoilers, but due to the nature of this game I’m so glad I didn’t know anything about it ahead of time. Even the trailers (which I watched afterwards) give away too much in my opinion. So don’t worry, there are no spoilers in this review. All I will tell you is that this game has some insane plot twists and killer cliffhangers!

Life is Strange is an interactive coming-of-age game in which your choices impact the storyline and ultimately decide the fate of the characters. But it goes a step beyond the typical “choose your own adventure” type story, by allowing your character to rewind time and affect the past, present, and future. The game also includes some amateur detective work, hunting for objects, and puzzle solving tasks. But the main challenge is having to make difficult decisions in realistic situations. I always have trouble making decisions in real life, so this game was a challenge but I consider it good training. Ha!

Life is Strange is set in the fictional coastal town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, and takes place during the month of October so it includes some Halloween décor. The main protagonist is Maxine Caulfield, an 18-year-old photography student at the prestigious Blackwell Academy. She lives in a dorm on campus where she naps, listens to music, plays her guitar, writes in her journal, and texts her friends. She’s a quiet, geeky girl who likes to go around taking pictures with an old-fashioned Polaroid camera. But don’t let her mild-mannered persona fool you; she’s very independent and strong when she needs to be, like Chell in Portal or Faith Connors in Mirror’s Edge. Just as with those characters, male gamers won’t mind playing as Max. She interacts with plenty of guys in the game, too – the typical jocks, geeks, and skateboarders – as well as the hipster professor, stern principal, paranoid security guard, and creepy janitor.

The game’s slice-of-life approach, while slow-paced, is intensely interesting and allows for more in-depth character development. Life Is Strange focuses on the everyday routines and relationships of teenage students at varying degrees of intensity. Dealing with the same type of gossip and cliquey nonsense that permeates the American school system, the game tactfully tackles such serious problems as mean girls, bullying, and suicide. Other issues that crop up in the game are teen pregnancy, mental health, gun violence, and even climate change. Though these topics might sound stereotypical, they are approached in a fresh way that’s not overbearing. Max’s best friend is a smart but rebellious dropout, and she also befriends a shy Christian girl.

While the personal stories and character arc serve as the central point in the game, the plot is influenced by chaos theory – specifically the butterfly effect – while introducing a touch of sci fi vibe. When Max discovers that she has the special power of time travel, she tries to use it for good, but often finds that her actions have unintended consequences. Still, it does help with her Nancy Drew-style sleuthing – imagine being able to erase evidence of your snooping by turning back the clock! And, of course, the one time she desperately needs it, you may find that her power doesn’t work. But this game is unique in that you can replay it and follow a whole new storyline.

Life Is Strange consists of five episodes (Chrysalis, Out of Time, Chaos Theory, Dark Room, Polarized) that were released periodically throughout 2015, but now you can get them all at once. Each episode takes about three hours to complete if you take your time and do a lot of poking around. Except for Episode 4, which takes more like four and a half hours. You may want to take a day off in between episodes so you can contemplate what just happened and enjoy the suspense of what may happen next, so the game won’t be over too soon. It’s a truly gripping story that took hold of me from beginning to end, with plenty of complex and multi-layered characters that are fleshed out so realistically, they’re far from the shallow clichés in your average teen drama.

Life Is Strange is an intelligent game that includes references to photography, art, literature, and science in addition to pop culture references to other games and movies. The artwork is amazingly realistic down to every last detail including the flyers and posters on the walls, screens on computers, knick-knacks on desks and shelves, food on the kitchen counter, etc. When you go into different dorm rooms, each student has their own unique style of interior design. And yet the textures were entirely hand-painted, giving the background an impressionistic watercolor feel that makes each screenshot look like concept art. At the same time, the actual gameplay was like an immersive cinematic experience.

Things I loved about this game:

  • Being able to walk around and leisurely explore an area, reading signs, watching the squirrels, taking time to immerse yourself in the environment.
  • The eye-poppingly gorgeous visuals and photorealistic scenery.
  • This is one of the few games that’s playable on high settings on our low-end PC.
  • Mature themes are handled very sensitively and nothing beyond PG-13 graphics, don’t worry; but still it’s probably best for ages 16+.
  • Stellar voice-acting, particularly the actresses of Max and Chloe.
  • Awesome nostalgic folk soundtrack featuring mellow tones and emotional ballads. (Original score by Jonathan Morali with songs from Syd Matters, Sparklehorse, Local Natives, Message to Bears, Mogwai, and other indie artists.)
  • Life is Strange Limited Edition (compatible with Windows 7) contains a 32-page artbook, music CD, and director’s commentary. The Limited Edition is also available for PS4 and Xbox One.

Things I didn’t like about this game:

  • The overuse of bad language. I mean, seriously, does the average teen girl need to say sh– and f— in every other sentence?
  • The drug use and underage drinking (just so you know, the main character abstains like a good role model).
  • The lipsynching got messed up toward the end of the game.
  • The surreal nightmare scene went on for way too long as an unnecessary filler in my opinion.

Life Is Strange will take you on an emotional rollercoaster of laughter, tears, shock, joy, anger, and more. It will make you think real hard about the choices you make in life – and you must choose wisely, since the decision you make today will impact everything you do down the road. At the same time, the negative and self-destructive mentality of constant regret over your decisions, be them good or bad, won’t be of any use; you just have to start from where you are now. This game will also make you take a more conscious stance against bullying; and it will make you appreciate what kindness and compassion can do even when applied to those who are mean to you.

Kudos to DONTNOD Entertainment for creating one of the most impacting and memorable games I’ve ever played. I haven’t had so much emotion drawn from me by a fictional story since watching Clannad. This game is similar to that anime in that the characters become your friends and you truly care about them. So if you are a teenager who likes anime, Nancy Drew mysteries, Telltale’s episodic game of The Walking Dead, or “serious” games, you will like Life Is Strange. I eagerly await to see more of their games in the future.

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