We make a lot of little choices in our daily lives. We decide what we eat for breakfast, what we wear to work, who we ask on a date; the list goes on. Life Is Strange attempts to show you just how critical each small decision really is.
In this charming episodic game, you take on the role of Max. Max is a short but tenacious photography student who is on the brink of discovering that her life might be a little less ordinary than she once believed. Without giving too much away, she finds that in the palm of her left hand is a truly extraordinary power: she can reverse time.
This time-bending mechanic is what really sets Life is Strange apart from other choice-based games. It puts, quite literally, the power in your own hands―you can choose to settle with what choice you’ve made, or you can go back in time and choose something else. No matter what you decide, however, there will always be consequences.
The lifeblood of any plot based game is always its characters. Life is Strange’s cast is not only diverse, but well developed. It takes common archetypes and builds upon them, twisting your idea of good guy and bad guy and all the gray area in between.
While Max herself is relatively soft spoken, the game gives you great flexibility in how she acts. An entire playthrough could change based on how you treat the people around you. From simple things like choosing to give someone a hug or larger, more substantial decisions like refraining from warning someone about a potential predator.
Her friends (mainly Chloe, Warren, Kate, and Victoria) are fleshed out unbelievably well. Each character has their own agency, and, despite being a game about choices, it is sometimes difficult to influence the choices of others even with the power of time in your hands.
One of Life Is Strange’s biggest strengths lies in its utilization of the mundane, innocent aspects of life. Simple actions like watering a plant or writing on the bathroom wall all have their ramifications, and Life Is Strange wants you to remember that. The game will always notify you that you’ve made a choice which will affect your playthrough, but never reveals just what the consequences may be. These choices will leave you wondering “Why did that matter?” “How can that possibly change a thing?” only to find later on that your decisions have resulted in wildly unimaginable implications.
This feeling does not only apply to small, seemingly insignificant choices, however. Choices which will dramatically affect your game are given even more attention: your screen will blur, shake, and force you to choose between one pick or the other. The visual effects often heighten the adrenaline of the moment, leaving you dazed in the moments afterwards. Instead of “Why did that matter?” you’ll be thinking “Should I go back?”.
As I’ve frequently mentioned, the life and soul of this game lies in the choices you make. With a variety of decisions to choose from, it’s unsurprising that the game can feel a lot different each time around.
Life is Strange’s external achievements are both a memorable and endearing addition to the game. Max, being the young shutterbug that she is, will occasionally comment on the scenery around her, remarking that it would be a great time for a photograph. These rare events are usually a result of a decision you’ve made, and are an appreciated break between particularly emotionally draining scenes.
For all Life is Strange has going for it, one of its more poignant flaws is in its attempt to appeal to the younger generation. The amount of ‘teen speak’ is copious. Chloe, Max’s best friend and resident punk, says the word “hella” so much that I found myself using it in conversation for a few days after my first playthrough.
[Spoiler-free, but my opinions might cloud your initial judgement of the game. I’d recommend playing it instead.]
Assuming you’ve finished the game, you’ve probably witnessed the controversial choice that is presented during the climax of Life Is Strange. Critics and players alike have had very different reactions to the outcome of the story. Personally, I found it unsatisfying. On one hand, it is emotionally impacting beyond anything I’ve experienced in a story-centric game before. On the other, your choices during the game turn out to be rather meaningless in the end.
One of Life Is Strange’s main criticisms is its poor lip-audio synchronization. Personally, if you don’t stare at the character’s lips too much, it’s not very noticeable. It’s more a matter of just how much it annoys you personally.
Life is Strange is truly a milestone in it’s genre. In a world where choice-based games are mainly monopolized by Telltale, Dontnod Entertainment’s game allows us a peek into a world unlike any I’ve explored before. Although it is minorly set back by its frustrating plot holes, the finished product will leave you thinking for days on end.