Review: Life is Strange

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Story
Returning to her home town Arcadia Bay after five years you step into the shows of Maxine, an enthusiastic photography student. After an odd vision that kicks off the game Max discovers she can rewind time for reasons unknown. With her story intersecting with a reunion with her long lost friend Chloe and a background involving a missing girl, the story sets up some intriguing plot points.

I’d love to say more however this first episode in the series very much sets up the characters and background only much in the same way as the TV show Lost did. I enjoyed Life is Strange’s set up and excited by how it develops as a result of the overarching plot and my decisions but how it will end it’s very difficult to say at this point. As it stands it’s a great new game and IP and I’m looking forward to seeing the series to its conclusion.

Gameplay
Much like Telltale’s titles, Life is Strange is an episodic narrative game where your decisions affect a whole manner of things. However the one thing I don’t like about them is how you’re reminded “X will remember that”. I really don’t like that as I know I’ve made a decision that’s affected some future element and can be quite binary. You don’t have that in real life and nor does Life is Strange have Mass Effect’s red and blue options indicating aggressive/passive options. Life is Strange by no means eradicates this but it can be more subtle how it goes about these key decisions and it’s all the better for it. For example I watered a plant and it said this will have a future consequence. What on Earth could that be?! How these actions affect the final outcome is going to be very interesting.

That’s all well and good but it’s a small improvement over Telltale’s games. The only real difference between this title and others in its genre is the rewind mechanic. This, as the name suggests, lets you rewind moments enabling you to choose a different dialogue option, fix a mistake your character made or allow you to navigate. You can’t go far back and only change events in the scene you’re currently but that doesn’t matter as the line has to be drawn at some point.

Life is Strange

Something that didn’t happen in Life is Strange is a split second decision that must be made. These sudden moments kept you on the edge of your seat and stopped you from over analysing the situation in a way that wouldn’t happen in real life. As a matter of fact most decisions in The Walking Dead of The Wolf Among Us have deadlines. Compounded by the rewind mechanic you can explore every discussion tree to its full before settling on your final decision.

Is this option good, letting players survey the path ahead, or does it take away from possible consequences? If I had these powers in real life, I of course would rewind time but in this game I have to admit I’m currently unsure how I feel about it. The point of this game (to me at least) is living with your decisions and seeing the end result, good or bad. I hope my feelings either way will become more pronounced over the next episode or two. Regardless of how I feel about it Dotnod are providing some serious competition in the genre which is desperately needed.

Presentation
Life is Strange accompanies its gameplay with a lovely soundtrack that perfectly fits the mood and themes of the game, exactly like any good teen drama film. The stylish introduction to the game after the prologue right through to the end of the episode the music is spot on.

The aspect that I liked the most though are the handpainted backgrounds which add real depth to the settings. The environment, although slightly stylised, looks all the more real and not because of 1080p and all that graphical nonsense that too many people get fixated on but because of the “real” nature of what’s been created.

Life is Strange screenshot 2

Walls are adorned many uniquely designed posters, rooms cluttered with various bits and bobs that student clutter their dorms with and I didn’t spot any obvious copy and pasting of assets. There are some negatives however. Character models are certainly not the best even taking into account the art style and trees look awful. The biggest issue I have is that there’s far too many instances of delayed texture loading. Every new area you visit you have several seconds of continual pop-in and textures loading up which does detract greatly from the otherwise excellent art style. At least there’s no loading delays unlike Telltale’s titles which really big me.

Voice acting is a little uneven with some of the dialogue being spot on but other times you can tell that French men have written it thinking that’s how the young’uns speak. The accompanying lip-syncing is nearly always off though which is slightly jarring but at least the voices behind the digital faces though are great and come across as real, human people.

To sum up
A very interesting start from a developer who keeps trying new things and should be fully commended. The indie-AAA vibe their going for is working on the whole and the fact they’re doing a better job in many ways that Telltale whilst using a wholly new IP is fantastic. But this is the first episode in the series and there’s a long way to see the game to its conclusion.

Review score will be applied after the final episode in this season.

Format reviewed: Xbox One

Author: Martyn Newton

Overlord of PopBucket and a gamer from a very young age with earliest memories including Theme Park, Detroit (look it up), Sim City, Championship Manager 2, The Lion King and Command & Conquer.

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