[WARNING OF SPOILERS AHEAD. PLEASE DO NOT READ IF YOU HAVE NOT PLAYED THE GAME, BUT PLAN TO. OTHERWISE, ENTER AT YOUR OWN RISK. THANK-YOU]
OK, so I literally just finished this game about half an hour ago (as I’m writing this) so this will most likely be my freshest review of a game ever. Let’s dive in!
Life is Strange is a game developed by Dontnod Entertainment and published by Square Enix. It’s described as a episodic graphic adventure with elements of puzzle solving and branching choices – in other words, whatever choice you make in the game can affect future plots on the game timeline.
Speaking of time, this is one of the game’s main focuses. This game focuses on Maxine Caulfield (“Max…never Maxine), an 18 year old wannabe photographer student listed in a prestigious high school (with a scholarship). As a self-proclaimed “clique geek”, she fits the unsuspecting stereotype – she’s quiet and holds back her full potential like a taunt rope yet is still likable by most the students and teachers at Blackwell. As I mentioned, this is an episodic game, so I’ll give you a brief summary on each episode.
Episode 1: Chrysalis
This episode sets up the story and is arguably the slowest, which is understandable. It begins with Max in class having a vision of destroying the town she lives in – Arcadia Bay. In her freaked out state, class ends and she goes to the bathroom to calm herself down. In the bathroom, she witnesses one of her classmates – Nathan Prescott – shoot a girl. When she eventually has enough courage to reveal herself from hiding, she discovers that she can remind time and ends up back in class after her vision. Putting her powers to good use, she saves the girl – who turns out to be her former best friend Chloe Price – and escapades Blackwell and the clutches of Nathan. Max and Chloe catch up, in which Chloe reveals she knew the girl who has been missing for six months (also a former Blackwell student) Rachel Amber (her missing posters are seen all over the school) and thus begins one the underlying stories within the game. The episode ends with a snow fall – something that no-one expected.
Episode 2: Out of Time
After telling Chloe about her superpowers in the previous episode, Max manages to convince her that her rewind powers with a few tricks. This is also the episode that highlights of Max’s friends from school – Kate Marsh – struggle with bullying. Basically, Kate was invited to a Vortex Club party (hosted by the school’s most elite and popular students, which include Nathan and the other ‘antagonist’ Victoria Chase) but a video goes viral of her making out with a LOT of guys, making her the subject of everyone’s mockery, despite her denying she remembered it happens. You see a hint of it in the first episode, but I would say that it’s this episode’s main focus. Despite seeking help from her family and teachers, Kate gets desperate to attempt suicide by jumping off the school roof. Depending on your choices throughout the episode and what information you’ve gathered from Kate’s room, you’re either able to save her or watch her fall (not in a morbid way). Despite this, the episode ends with Max and her friend (and potential love interest, again depending on your choices) Warren outside the school and witnessing an unannounced eclipse. She and Chloe decide that Kate’s suspected dosing at the Vortex party and Rachel’s disappearance are linked and they should investigate further.
Episode 3: Chaos Theory
Max and Chloe’s investigate begins in the evening of the previous episode (an episode is an entire day at this point, if that makes sense?) when Blackwell is quiet. Chloe manages to steal the keys to the school (her step-father is the security guard of the school, David Madsen) and they break into the principle’s office, only to find that Nathan isn’t the model student he’s made out to be – he’s actually much more disturbed and unhinged. After gathering a little bit more evidence, splashing around in the school pool and hiding from security guards, the two ‘detectives’ escape. The following morning, they gather more evidence on David (who was suspect in the second episode after Max caught him yelling at Kate for not reason) Chloe confronts him. Again, another choice is made here to either stand up for David or gang up on him with Chloe. Whatever happens, Chloe and Max decide that they should gather more evidence of Rachel’s disappearance from Frank (who appeared in the previous episode as a drug dealer and loan shark of Chloe) in his RV. They manage to break in with some special rewinds and discover that Rachel was dating Frank, which upsets Chloe even more. During a heated argument between Max and Chloe, Chloe reveals that she blames her dead father William for her life “being dipped in shit”. Max decides that she should change time and make sure William ends up alive, which in turn alters the timeline. On her way to see the alternative Chloe, Max sees beached whales (yet another unexplained phenomenon) and Chloe in a wheelchair.
Episode 4: Dark Room
In the alternative reality, Max and Chloe spend some time together, only for Max to realise the extend of her powers’ consequences and that Chloe – despite her parents still being together – is slowly dying. Max whips herself back to the present and after getting more information from Frank and Nathan, they link up all their clues to find that Rachel may have been involved with Nathan at a Prescott-owned barn. After discovering its location thanks to David’s own investigating (which he did not give willingly, FYI) they head to barn which is a front for an underground bunker suited for the apocalypse. There in the “Dark Room”, the duo discover that Nathan has been drugging girls and has been taking creepy photographs of them in their drug-induced states via the dozens of folders containing their photographs – one of which is Kate’s and another is Rachel’s. In one of the photographs, Rachel is seen being put into the ground of the junkyard (AKA Chloe’s “home away from Hell” that was seen in episode two). They race there only to discover Rachel’s body. Max and Chloe crash the Vortex club party to warn Victoria that she is possibly next and to bust Nathan. After walking and searching, they come to no avail and decide to stalk the Blackwell dormitories, only to receive a threat text from Nathan that he is planning to destroy Rachel’s body and any other evidence so she won’t get justice. The return to the junkyard only to find Rachel’s body still there. The final scenes show Chloe getting shot (for about the third time now, depending on your choices), Max getting drugged and Mark Jefferson AKA Max’s photography teacher is actually the one behind all this. Oh yeah, and some twin moon thing happened.
Episode 5: Polarized
In this final episode, Max finds herself in the dark room where Jefferson tortures her and reveals snip-bits of information – basically, Jefferson and Nathan had a father-son relationship develop after Nathan being trashed by his own “asshole” father, so Nathan became his protege. Only, Nathan believed that he could deal with Rachel by himself but ended up giving her an overdose and thus killing her. In turn, Jefferson kills Nathan and pins all evidence of the dark room on him while keeping Max captive. After some more flipping around alternative realities, Max goes back to the beginning of this adventure, hands in her entry of the “Everyday Heroes” contest and reports Jefferson and Nathan to the police. Deservingly, Max wins the contest and ends up flying to San Francisco to enter the world of art and photography, happy knowing she has stopped everything. Or, at least she thought she had – she gets a couple of voicemails from Chloe to discover that the storm has still hit Arcadia Bay. Max goes back in time again, destroys her contest entry only to wind up in the dark room again. Luckily, David saves and releases her. After remembering the picture that Warren (drunkenly) took at the Vortex Club, she wavers the storm and goes back to retrieve it. On the night of the party, Max and Chloe stay at home but tell David everything so Jefferson and Nathan still end up arrested, but this still doesn’t stop the storm. After some tripped-out nightmare sequence, Max discovers that the storm was actually caused by her saving Chloe from getting shot by Nathan in the first place. This leaves the final decision – save Arcadia Bay by sacrificing Chloe or keeping her alive.
Pros of Life is Strange
I will say that I am not the biggest fan of ‘click-and-explore’ games such as Everybody’s Gone to the Rapture or Beyond Two Souls – I often feel that they are a waste of a game – however, I really enjoyed this game. First off, the art style is amazing – it’s different and ‘quirky’ and with the Unreal 4 engine, it looks beautiful. Second of all, the music – the original music is calming but easily shifts to darker tones throughout the game which fits with the setting – I think this is especially evident in episode three.But it also has a few popular artists and their songs thrown in there – I recognised Jose Gonzalez instantly (he’s a Swedish indie folk singer. Many of you will probably know his song ‘Heartbeats’ and ‘Far Away’ which was used in Red Dead Redemption as you entered Mexico – one of my favourite unexpected moments in gaming) and other indie artists. The music fit in so well with the games that I don’t think it could be improved or anything removed at all.
Of course, the story is what drew me in, but also the underlying stories such as Rachel’s disappearance and Jefferson turning out to be a complete psycho. I was truly shocked in many places (the main one being never suspecting Jefferson as Nathan’s partner) and cried in others (in my playthrough, I chose to sacrifice Chloe and yes, I did cry during the funeral scene). But I also enjoyed talking to the other Blackwell students and Arcadia Bay residents and finding out little things about them so you could rewind time and redo the conversation so it ends in your favour. For example, I spoke to one of Victoria’s “minions” Taylor during the second episode, only to find out her mother wasn’t very well. I ended rewinding the conversation and talking Taylor I was sorry about her mother’s condition. Then, in episode 4 during the alternative reality I found a text stating Max had gone with Taylor to visit her mother after her back surgery. Also in the same episode, Taylor treated me nicely when I spoke to her at the Vortex Club End of the World party. That little detail I can appreciate.
I can also acknowledge the character writing – hell, I absolutely hated Victoria and Nathan (and Jefferson, eventually) which means to me that they written well enough for me to hate them. I mean, they’re just pixels and I wanted to punch them so many times (yes, I did let Warren beat up Nathan in episode 4 before you ask. I also took a picture of Victoria after she got covered in paint in the first episode but I then rewound it. And – of course – I enjoyed the many choices you had to make in the game that did affect parts of the story in the future, such as not taking a picture of David arguing with Kate that could have been as evidence to give to Jefferson in episode two.
I also enjoyed the photo opportunities you had in the game – some of them were hard to find and sadly I didn’t even get half of them (45%, ugh).
Cons of Life is Strange
I did have a few problems with this game. The first problem I encounter was that when I was in class after the tornado vision, I wasn’t able to perform any actions on the table because my mouse won’t move enough so I could select it (yes, I played it on PC). And it was nothing to do with my mouse cable – for the rest of the game, it worked fine. I used my controller to proceed and I would ignore the game’s suggestion of using the gaming controller. I’m not a very experienced PC gamer but I managed fine – apart from the sequence of focusing on photos to travel through time.
I agree with other reviews that I had problems with the slang used along with it’s “America-ness” – not that there’s anything wrong with America. OK, I’ll change it to “stereotypical American teenage-ness” of sex, drugs and rock ‘n’ roll. I’m not a prude but I felt like there was too much emphasis of those things.
Of course, I encountered the technical hiccup here and there such as lag, lip synching (especially during the scene in the final episode when Max finds Warren and reveals her superpowers to him – Max had the ability to speak without moving her mouth), some parts not loading (final episode again when I time travelled through a photo) but there were so far few inbetween that I won’t say it ruined my playthrough – it was just something to be watchful over. And the rewind mechanism – I think it was a bit glitchy.
Another thing I agree with the reviewers about – the crazy trippy nightmare scenes in the final episode. I felt they were unnecessary and confusing – why the hell did play Victoria in the never-ending corridor? Why was Chloe making out with Victoria in the darkroom? Why was Max trapped in a snow globe? I get that it was being weird and messed up but when it doesn’t fit within the game, why should be there? Also, the time travelling through photos at the end of episode three and four made that made it feel redundant because you went back in time.
Oh, and the alternative decision at the end of the game when you chose Chloe or Arcadia Bay? I watched the ending I didn’t chose and all it was was Max and Chloe getting in a car and driving away. I understand that the developers thought that the majority of people were going to chose Chloe but you shouldn’t be so lazy. That and being lazy with civilian skins – I spotted two dudes in the art gallery that looked and sounded the same but were wearing different clothes.
I thoroughly enjoyed this game, even though I suspected I wouldn’t. It had a great storyline, as well as under stories going on with great character writing, environments and themes of bullying, friendship and even an environmental message (you could argue). And by no means is this a short game – I managed to complete it within 17 hours, but I am an exploration whore when it comes to these types of games. But a game as beautiful and indie as this made by 15 people? Colour me impressed.
I would give it 8.5 but that nightmare scene in the final episode cost it’s .5 rating – it was too weird, even for me. But I recommend this game if you haven’t played it. Now excuse me while I go buy a polarized camera and download some songs from iTunes.
Thanks for reading hope you enjoyed! Take care until next week.