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Life is Strange Review: When Life is Stranger than Fiction



Credit: Life is Strange

Most people view gamers as boorish, vulgar and tactless young males. This is mostly true; just spend ten minutes in a competitive multiplayer game and you'll see what I mean. However, these people have tarnished the reputation of video games, making them look like a mere mindless activity of shooting planes and avatars. Gems like Life is Strange, which has both entertainment and story-telling value, are often overlooked.

Life is Strange follows the story of Maxine “Max” Caulfield, a shy eighteen-year-old photography student at a prestigious private school in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon. Like your everyday teenage girl, she loves movies, taking Instagram-worthy photos and snooping around her friends’ stuff. But, she also has the ability to reverse time. Max decides to help her friend Chloe to find out what happened to the latter's friend, Rachel, who has gone missing, all while navigating through teenage drama, drugs, and selfies.

Similar to Telltale’s games and other point-and-click adventures, players are given various options of dialogues or actions to choose from when interacting with other characters or objects. Trivial choices made early in the game can have heavier repercussions later, forcing the player to contemplate each choice. Often in the game, I would find myself conflicted between the choices that I want and the choices that I think are the least morally ambiguous.


Credit: Life is Strange

While Telltale games have stronger stories, Life is Strange sets itself apart with its ‘rewind’ mechanic, which allows the players to see the outcome of their decisions, rewind, and try a different choice. Yet, it does not detract from the severity of certain decisions as Max can only rewind a short period of time, making it impossible to change decisions made too long ago. The ‘rewind’ mechanic are also used in a few puzzle elements within the game, which is a refreshing change to the use of the ability amidst countless rewinding of conversations.


Credit: Life is Strange

What makes Life is Strange shine is the story. It is a mixture of numerous genres, ranging from teen drama, to mystery, and even a hint of sci-fi making it a rollercoaster in every sense. The story starts off as a chickflick, transforming into a thriller before reverting to a teen drama, going back and forth repeatedly. Emotionally, this brings the player up to the clouds before plunging them down, tugging on the heart strings in the cruellest ways, all while captivating players with its visual beauty.

However, the plethora of themes could result in occasional inconsistent tones throughout the game. While the shock from the sudden change sometimes works great, other times it just felt awkward.


Credit: Life is Strange

Looking past all the Stephen King elements of the game, Life is Strange is a drama that puts players into the director’s chair, giving morally ambiguous choices for the player to make. Should you take money meant for handicapped students to pay off a debt or should you leave it and risk your best friend’s life? Should you support your best friend even though she is wrong? Outcomes are rarely favourable and everything is a shade of grey. It possesses the complexity and depth absent even in most movies, something remarkably impressive for a video game.

Despite its failings in consistency, players will have a heavy emotional investment in the theme as you watch each of them develop, veering from the stereotypical tropes to a complex multifaceted character. The extraordinary characters are solidified by the succinct voice acting, bringing the characters to life and expressing their emotions impressively, despite the occasional odd writing.

All in all, the charm of the characters, more so than the plot, is what makes Life is Strange so alluring, and was what ultimately captured the hearts of players. But be warned, the emotional attachment developed throughout the game will be used against you. Repeatedly.


Source: in-game footage

From the minute you start the game, even in the home menu, Life is Strange is beautiful. The hand-painted brush drawing fits the tranquility of the atmosphere perfectly and compliments Max's coy personality and mostly relaxed pacing of the game. The realistic image of the locales such as houses and schools are captured in the design and intricate details drawn of those places. Intractable posters strewn across the walls, litter scattered on the sidewalk and even some drawings on the vandalised walls create a vibrancy to each location.

Life is Strange uses mostly obscure indie songs, creating a rustic yet hauntingly beautiful atmosphere that sets the tone for game, not to mention complement the storytelling.

While Life is Strange has flaws, it is a storytelling masterpiece that even those new to video game can enjoy tremendously. By the way, Life is Strange Episode 1 is free on Steam.

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