The graphic adventure genre has been around for a long time, with Telltale Games being the most prominent of the bunch most recently. With the success of their array of games, Dontnod has now thrown their hat into the ring with their own episodic offering. Remember Me served as their debut in 2013, but now they are taking a very different approach with Life is Strange, which successfully introduces players to compelling characters across a brand new world, while also supplying plenty of mystery surrounding the unique time-rewinding mechanic.
Similar to other games in the genre, Life is Strange puts the story in the forefront. The game starts off in a very distorted direction, but quickly jumps to a much more subdued situation, with the lead character Maxine in a typical setting atypical of a teenager, a classroom. From there, the story remains relatively restrained, outside of a few key moments. This lack of urgency and life-threatening situations is very different from other similar games, but the ending to this episode proves that won’t be the case for long. The type of story that is being set up here desperately needed a somewhat muted opening act to establish this universe and the developer did a phenomenal job at doing so, while also making players almost instantly invested.
At this point, some familiar elements of games like The Walking Dead and such will appear, including the ability to interact with items in front of you. Life is Strange keeps it relatively simple by typically mapping “look” to triangle and the various interactions to X, which is great for both newcomers and veterans of the genre.
Upon getting to walk around the classroom and school itself, you will will realize how you can interact with a very impressive number of objects and people in Life is Strange. The only problem with such a large number of interactive objects is that it often can be difficult to select the specific one you wish to interact with, which can get a little frustrating at times. Even if a NPC cannot be spoken with, Maxine can still tell the player some details about most of them, which allows one to feel even more invested in the story itself, regardless how minuscule
Life is Strange manages to set up the basic elements of the game in the early moments, but everything changes upon the discovery of the game’s signature element, the ability to rewind time. Previously, any conversations went as they typically do in the graphic adventure genre, with the player choosing from a few different story altering options. Offering gameplay like this would have felt extremely stale in this current gaming environment, so Dontnod decided to implement something very different to shake up this trend.
At most points of the game, Maxine has the ability to revert back to prior moments, albeit limited to the most recent few actions. This action’s usefulness is shown in its first appearances in the story, but there is much more to it as the first episode unfolds.
One of the most common uses is to change your answers during conversation, with perhaps even some new answers appearing based on the initial response. Some puzzles that are required to complete to advance use it, but there are plenty of optional moments as well. One that stood out was the warning of a classmate that a football was about to hit her head, allowing her to move out of the way. This is incredibly small and subtle, but still something that allows one to shape the type of player he or she wants to be for future episodes of Life is Strange.
the decisions being made here will factor largely into the future episodes
While it is very early into the game, with this episode serving as merely an introduction, it really does feel like the decisions being made here will factor largely into the future episodes. As with all games in this genre, the payoffs won’t come until much later, but the short-term consequences have already started to surface in some cases. This makes the time-rewinding ability all the more important, which could seemingly cause the decisions to have less gravity. However, Dontnod has done an excellent job at not making the choices black and white in the least, with decisions often being even tougher after seeing both outcomes.
From the minute the first episode of Life is Strange starts up to when the last choice is made, the game presents you with a different art style that is kind of hard to compare to anything else. The almost pastel color scheme works in tandem with the lighting to offer warm and inviting visuals in most cases. While the visuals are fairly unique, there isn’t anything else overly standout about them. However, that is mostly to be expected with smaller budget episodic games such as this.
That smaller budget may have also caused one of the most annoying issues in the game, abysmal lip sync. The dialogue itself can be a little trying at times, but it fits the tone of the game and age of the characters involved. Even the voice acting is mostly solid as the characters mostly fit their roles well, from the more pessimistic main character to the queen bee of the school, but the whole experience is tarnished with the lip sync. It is almost as bad as the FMV sequences in the original Final Fantasy X sometimes, where the words coming out of the mouth are not close in the least. This is something that a game really should not have trouble with in this day and age of technology.
While obviously taking some cues from the existing games in the graphic adventure genre, Life is Strange kicks things off in a mostly reticent fashion that manages to provide the players with a proper introduction to this odd world. There are many compelling characters introduced with the psyche of a few even being delved into throughout this relatively short episode, allowing players to get emotionally invested in the story that is merely beginning. Through the very intriguing time-rewinding mechanic, players get to shape the future with even more precision than ever before in this genre. With a final few minutes that will make it almost impossible not to return for the next episode, Life is Strange is off to a mighty fine start.
Life is Strange Episode One
- Available On: PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
- Published By: Square Enix
- Developed By: DONTNOD
- Genre: Adventure
- US Release Date: January 30th, 2015
- Reviewed On: PS4
- Quote: "Dontnod has done a fantastic job of not only introducing an interesting new world to explore in Life is Strange, but also an intriguing time-rewinding mechanic, and mysterious story that can only grow from here."