Being marketed as a “playable indie movie,” Square Enix’s episodic series Life Is Strange set out to evolve the concepts of story and exploration introduced by games like Gone Home and any Telltale series. The story follows Max, an 18-year-old photography buff who returns to her home town of Arcadia Bay after five years to study photography at the prestigious Blackwall Academy. After witnessing a student get shot in the girl’s bathroom, Max realizes she has the power to manipulate time, and is able to use this power to stop everything from death to a girl getting hit in the head with a football. As the game will reiterate several times throughout the first episode, Max’s life sure is strange.
First of all, this game is absolutely beautiful. From a unique art style to a calming and atmospheric soundtrack, Life Is Strange definitely lives up to its “artsy” marketing. The gameplay is also incredibly well done; the mechanic of rewinding time is seamless, easy to use, and downright fun, as you can see both outcomes of the choices you make before you stick with a final decision. This also makes for some truly novel puzzles. The game world, whether it be Max’s dorm room or her school, is filled with flavor text that excels at creating a richer world. One of my favorite pieces of flavor text is Max’s journal, which gives details on her character and the students around her. Through this journal, you can also see pictures you’ve taken as Max, text messages from her parents and friends, and even every poster you’ve viewed throughout the world.
The story has multiple plot points and every character is painted as a potentially vital aspect of said plot. There’s Max’s budding friendship with Warren, her reunion with former best friend Chloe, the mystery surrounding a student’s disappearance, and the many mysteries that surround Blackwall Academy’s administration. The game excels at making the player interested in all of these plot points and does an amazing job of connecting them all together (even if at times some connections seem a little too convenient).
The protagonist, Max, is an interesting and likeable self-proclaimed “geek” whose inner monologue is often filled with inquiries about other students and self-reflection of her own social status. What I found interesting is the fact that Max is so sure in her role of the shy, awkward, introverted teenager. But the gameplay directly contrasts this idea, as Max openly engages in conversation with everyone around her and helps multiple students with their problems. It’s clear from Max’s interactions with others (especially Chloe and that adorably awkward dance scene) that she does have some social awkwardness, but the gameplay is in direct contrast with Max’s view of herself as shy and introverted. Whether or not this is intentional, I’m not sure, but it did take me out of the experience a bit.
I really enjoyed the game’s writing. Max’s diary entries were strikingly similar to some of the things I once wrote at that age. The fact that Max is 18, however, also served to take me out of the story a bit. Some of the dialogue and diary entries just seemed a little young for someone who’s 18, and it doesn’t help that Max looks much younger than that. Again, I’m not sure if this is intentionally included to act as some kind of commentary or to allude to the idea that Max and her peers aren’t as mature as they make themselves out to be, but some of the writing in this game seemed like it would serve better in a middle-school drama.
Overall, I really enjoyed this game. The gorgeous atmosphere, interesting plot and characters, and intriguing mystery were all enough for me to invest in a season pass. After finishing the first episode, I immediately wanted to know more and experienced a longing to be back in that world. Life Is Strange excelled in nearly every way, and as I listened to the beautiful music of the credit sequence, I found myself incredibly grateful that this game exists. I can’t wait to see more from this series.