Max returns to her hometown after five years of absence to study photography at the prestigious Blackwell Academy. And while not much seems to have changed, she finds out that, in fact, everything has and will.
Estimating the second episode for next month, it is time to have a look at the new kid on the block that everyone’s somehow talking about, though sadly not always positively. Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game in five parts for PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One and Xbox360 developed by Dontnod Entertainment and published by Square Enix, and centres around the life and struggles of Maxine Caulfield, a senior photography student who has just returned to her hometown. Soon, though, she is plagued by a strange vision of (not surprising) destruction and devastation, and while she is still trying to figure out what it all means, she finds out that she can, in fact, manipulate time. It’s quite a bit to take in, all while stuck with typical adolescent problems of popularity, bullying, and dirty secrets behind every perfect façade.
Always a step ahead
Of course games that manipulate time are nothing totally new – think Braid, for instance, Prince of Persia: Sands of Time, or one of my current favourites, The Bridge –, but I haven’t seen it weaved into a story in such an intriguing way before. Max is even able to rewind time and use relive and master scenarios by drawing on information she got from, well, the future. But of course that brings to mind the butterfly effect as she slowly has to find out that all her choices have an impact on someone or something – impacts that she can probably not even foresee until it’s potentially too late. This, though, is a nice addition for all those gamers who like to see all the options that a certain conversation has to offer – simply rewind and try again, and if you don’t like what you see, just try again. Either way, you’re faced with some pretty difficult decisions from time to time, but honestly, anyone who’s suffered through The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us won’t sweat it too much; this, after all, is just life, not the apocalypse – or is it? At any rate, the atmosphere here is much calmer, brighter and warmer than in either of those games, with small hidden Easter eggs around so many corners.
Nostalgia meets simplicity
And that is precisely one of the many beautiful things about Life is Strange: it is normal. Sure, there’s time travel, but the overall setting is a small town, a school, and the kind of people everyone has encountered at some point or other. There is drama (and I mean drama!) amongst the college girls, there’s the likeable, casual teacher who tries to function as an inspiration to everyone (and, incidentally, probably made a lot of gamers swoon, especially the female population), there are the rebellious and slightly strange teenagers, and there are the regular people who just try to blend in. Max is definitely the latter, and that makes her such a good object of identification. I, at any rate, could relate pretty well to the socially anxious, shy, creative person who seems a little uncomfortable with stuff and largely just wants to be left alone. Go ahead and read her journal, which details even the months before coming back to Arcadia Bay and adds some more dimensions to the character, for instance. Overall, seeing how she detailed whatever was happening to her was almost as much fun as playing it myself. It makes you both long for your teenage years, and be glad that you’ve overcome them without (hopefully) stabbing anyone.
A bright future ahead
…but according to Max’s premonitions, it doesn’t look that bright. Who knows what’s in store for Max and her estranged best friend Chloe? And what’s the secret behind the disappearance of a girl? Who knows whose secrets, and who is involved and dangerous? Only time will tell, and in the meantime, I can only recommend this to anyone who’s interested in a beautifully structured story, lifelike characters, and intriguing gameplay.