‘LIFE IS STRANGE’ (2015) GAME REVIEW – We’re Not Cut Out For Some Of These Life Choices…..
Wow, this game is hella fucking heavy. I went into Life is Strange more or less blind, I knew nothing about the gameplay mechanics, story, or anything of the sorts. The most I knew is that there’s a character with blue hair, who i’ve seen attached to articles regarding the game over the last 2 years. And I feel like going into this game knowing nothing at all was an incredible way to experience it where every simple revelation even early on in the game was a complete surprise. And coming out of this experience (which is what this is) I absolutely loved this game from start to finish. The gameplay mechanics are simple to use and easy to learn but still allow for many complex and innovative puzzle sequences that continue to change the game with each episode. The way dialogue options are handled in this game is fantastic, I prefer them over the Telltale style where every conversation is more like a quicktime event. And then you get to the real stars of the game, the story and the characters….. just truly incredible.
I will start with the focus of this game, the story, because from the get-go it completely hooked me in and did not once let up right to the final minute. It was an amazing, incredibly emotional, heart wrenching, heart warming, and riveting experience that had my emotions all over the fucking place. It constantly beats you down and tires you the fuck out but at the same time it offers moments of pure levity filled with love and fun and it’s these moments that make every second of pain worth it. And being a game heavily focused on the multiple choices you make throughout the episodes it adds a personal element to everything that occurs. When something good happens you feel great because you contributed to that, but when something shitty happens you genuinely feel like shit as if you are doing this stuff to real people. And the choices you make are by no means easy, one sequence in the game had me sweating literal buckets for minutes and my concentration was at 110%, holding my breath like I was having a fucking mental breakdown. And there were a couple of other choices it forces you to make that had me literally frozen, staring at the screen for a good five minutes going back and forth in my mind. And these aren’t even real people, they are fictional characters, but it is because of the characters that you cannot help but care so damn much.
You take control of a photography student at Blackwell Academy in the town of Arcadia Bay by the name of Max Caulfield. Right from the beginning you form an attachment to Max, upon introduction she is a quite shy, geeky, strong headed personality who likes to view the world through her camera, and also has a very good heart, expressing kindness and gratitude for those around her at every opportunity. You feel like you instantly relate to the character and so every decision you have Max make you put yourself in her shoes, always going back to what you would do in every situation? And as she builds her character up throughout the game gaining experience and confidence you grow too getting you more and more invested as the story continues. But it isn’t just the playable character who you get attached to, the game does an incredible job at creating a variety of interesting personalities who all feel real and not like stereotypical recycled personalities. There is a human side to every character you come across even the side characters who are only briefly featured, it all works in fleshing out this town making it feel like a real, rich community.
One really cool thing to note are the similarities between this game’s story and other forms of media, most of which had some sort of direct influence on the story. There are a lot of ‘The Butterfly Effect’ vibes scattered throughout the story, and even though the following show aired after the release of this game a lot of the themes of ’13 Reasons Why’ are heavily touched on all over this game. But probably the strongest link this game shares with a piece of external media is with ‘Twin Peaks’, and as a huge fan of that show this was a very welcome surprise. The influences are all over the place and it is only further emphasised by the large number of easter eggs I was able to pick out referencing the infamous TV show.
So in the end, ‘Life is Strange’ succeeds with an incredible story front and centre that grips you and never lets go, throwing you through the ringer bashing you left and right with emotion after emotion. But being a game, it also needs good functional gameplay to be a success and this is accomplished very well here. The conversation trees are easy to navigate and allow you to make the decision you want to make without being on a timer. This game is stressful enough, I couldn’t imagine having to make the same decisions on a timer, i’d have butchered everything no doubt. So now this franchise I once knew nothing about is now one of my most hotly anticipated going forward as multiple future instalments have already been announced.