Achievement Unlocked: Video Games
Life is Strange, and Getting Stranger: Episode 1 and 2 Review
In Life is Strange we play Max Caulfield, a girl returning to the town she grew up in after moving away five years ago. She returns to attend Blackwell Academy, a prestigious high school where she can follow her dreams of becoming a photographer. Returning to Arcadia Bay also means the reintroduction of Max’s old best friend Chloe, the girl who Max hasn’t spoken to for those five years. Through Chloe and the various students and staff of Blackwell we quickly begin to build a picture of what the town has turned into since she left. A rich family has the school and police under their thumb, the student body is tormented by the elite Vortex Club members, and girls like Chloe’s friend Rachel have gone missing.
So far, so normal (kind of), but after witnessing an altercation in the school bathroom Max discovers she now has the ability to reverse time, a power that allows us as the player to see the various outcomes of our choices, leading to a feeling of cheating and the development of a god complex (maybe that last one is just me). [pullquote]
Like with most games however there is no clear correct answer, and our choices are a moral one more than they are right or wrong.
[/pullquote]Max may be able to reverse time, but she can’t go back far enough to change things once the bigger picture is revealed. Her powers are limited, and during a critical part of the story are even disable completely after being pushed too far.
The whole game has a nostalgic feeling to it, while it’s clearly set in the present you don’t have to look far to be reminded of the teen movies of the eights and early nineties. There are a lot of pop culture references throughout the game, by the characters themselves as well as nods from the developers through various licenses plates in the school parking lot (from TWNPKS to PRKSNRC), and it’s no secret where the game gets its influences.
I can admit right away, Life is Strange is never going to be a game for everyone. When the first episode was released back in January in fact I had to completely avoid the Steam community full of people seemingly determined to hate the game, but now I’m here to tell you that they’re wrong.
That’s not to say there aren’t valid reasons to dislike the game, just that most of the negativity hasn’t been about the games legitimate problems. Instead they’ve mostly been the voices of people that think the game should allow you to choose to play a male character, and post topics warning about three (THREE!) instances of Feminism in the first episode alone. Since you’re currently on this site, I don’t think I have to tell you how ridiculous the whole thing is.
The game’s main problem comes from its dialogue, which at times comes across as clunky and forced, a bit like a dad trying to sound cool around his teenage daughters. While, yes, I am guilty of saying hella once or twice I very much doubt I would be saying it when a gun was pointed at me. There does also seem to be a slight problem with lip syncing, but both of these issues seem to have improved somewhat with the release of the second episode.
Outside of technical issues the rest is personal opinion. The game would no doubt appeal to fans of Telltale’s mechanically similar games, but anyone looking for a fight will probably find themselves losing interest rather quickly. Think Telltale’s The Walking Dead meets Gone Home, set in a school out of most teen movies.
While there is clearly a larger plot slowly being revealed (and did I mention Max’s visions of a tornado that’s going to destroy the whole town in a couple of days?), the game also has a lot to say about the thoughts and feelings of teenagers during their time in high school and they aren’t shying away from things such a sexual assault and suicide. The story does have its supernatural elements but Max’s powers are very clearly shown to represent the uncertainty we have in most things at that time of our lives, leaving her unsure no matter what we pick.
Overall the game is like most awkward teenagers, it says some stupid stuff sometimes but it’s still working on itself and getting better. The story has a lot of heart, and everyone is going to find someone they recognize, be it themselves, or their best friend, or the person that bullied them in high school. It’s relatable despite its unbelievable elements in the same way Buffy the Vampire Slayer and Veronica Mars were, and episode three can’t get here fast enough.
Life is Strange episodes one and two are currently available for download on Playstation 3, Playstation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and PC. Episode three is set to be released in May 2015.