Life Is Strange

If you have ever made a choice that you regret, what would you do if you could try that choice again? If you’re a fan of adventure games, you already know the answer: you save before you make any and every choice. But reality doesn’t work that way, and most of us simply live with the consequences of our choices. Then again… what if it did?

Dontnod Entertainment’s second game, Life Is Strange, follows a young woman Max Caulfield as she endures her senior year at a prestigious high school on the Oregon coast. It’s been a month since she came to Blackwell Academy, and already she’s disillusioned with her surroundings; her classmates are hostile, she’s targetted by the local snotty girl posse, and the teacher she most admires seems to be putting way too much pressure on her. For Max, the only bright spots are her photography– the reason she’s at Blackwell– and the thought of reuniting with her friend Chloe, who she hasn’t seen in five years– and hasn’t had the guts to make contact with almost a month into school.

All this changes when Max happens to encounter a butterfly in the ladies’ room one late October day. The butterfly’s arrival coincides with a maniac with a gun shooting someone else in the bathroom… and then Max wakes up in the classroom, minutes before the butterfly’s arrival. She has somehow acquired the means to turn back time in a limited fashion, allowing her to undo choices and re-live moments. This blessing comes with a curse: a premonition of the city being destroyed in a massive tornado in less than a week. And by saving that girl in the bathroom, Max has put herself in the crosshairs of forces she doesn’t yet understand.

Playing out as a very relaxed-pace adventure game in the vein of Telltale Games’ chaptered tales, Life Is Strange‘s first chapter (released this past week on PS4 and Steam) is a short introduction to both the mechanics and world of the game. It probably won’t take more than about an hour or two to play “Chrysalis” to its completion, which is a little disappointing because the storytelling does such a wonderful job of drawing the player in. Between the excellent voice acting, the wonderfully-curated music selections, and the strong scriptwriting, the rather abrupt end will most likely leave you counting the days until the next chapter’s release.

The game does suffer from a few minor flaws, of course. In keeping with the moderate pacing, Max moves maddeningly slowly, and the offered acceleration button doesn’t really give her too much more speed. The game’s Unreal Engine-powered graphics experience texture pop-in and some rather frank ugliness on occasion. And, while Max’s actress does a good job expressing Max’s disaffectedness, it’s sometimes easy to mistake that for a flat tone and wooden acting. Still, these are exceedingly overlookable in the larger picture of the great story being told.

Without a doubt this is going to be a strong contender for awards when 2015 is said and done. More, Life Is Strange is the next evolution of “interactive movies”, a form of game storytelling that had its origins in the old Don Bluth laserdisc games and has been refined, with varying success, ever since. Titles like Heavy Rain, L.A. Noire, and The Longest Journey have all brought us closer to the ideal posited with the advent of full motion video, and Life Is Strange is simply the next step. As a game, it’s a true breakthrough, simply because of the massive amount of choices being tracked and affecting the story. As a story, it’s enthralling and intriguing that something this well-crafted is being directed by the player in real-time. This game hits fifth gear from the very first moments and is not going to let up anytime soon.

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