by Matthew Thompson
What initially drew me to Life is Strange was developer Dontnod Entertainment. I didn’t love their previous game Remember Me, but I did love certain aspects of it especially the game’s memory remixes. It was a wonderful mechanic and Life is Strange seemed to have a similar hook at its core. While this aspect remains a plus for Life is Strange, there was so much more to like about it that I ended up really falling for this little game.
Life is Strange is in the mold of Telltale’s recent decision-based adventure games. You’ll walk around talking to people making various choices during conversations. The game is a little too heavy-handed in letting you know when an action of yours will have consequences later. I really like how the rewind mechanic is utilized here though. I’m not good with making these sorts of decisions under time pressure. The ability to rewind lets you really examine the various paths in the short-term. You still need to guess what is best for your character in the long run, but being able to get a better look at your options and undo mistakes in Life is Strange really appealed to me.
My biggest gripe with the game is that I feel they don’t do enough with the rewind mechanic outside of the decision-making. I was hoping to see it used in some more complex-puzzle solving. Based on a few simple scenarios present here and my experience with Remember Me, I think there was potential to do some really cool puzzles and that is something I hope they run with in future episodes.
High school settings are a bit underutilized in gaming and I had fun exploring Life is Strange’s Blackwell Academy. The game luckily gives you a little room to roam and does a good job of leveraging this setting for the narrative. The story hones in on Max, a teenage girl who returns to her hometown and discovers she has time-bending abilities. There is a real sense of mystery lying just under the surface of Arcadia Bay and the first episode will allow you to start peeling away the layers and begin getting to the bottom of things. The story at times reminds me of teen dramas like Veronica Mars while at others supernatural games like Alan Wake. It makes for an interesting combo. The artstyle and characters help to create a story I really enjoyed. The dialogue didn’t work all that well for me though. While my age might be a factor, some of the phrases being thrown around had me rolling my eyes. It didn’t help that the lip-sync seemed to be off as well. But those are small issues in what was otherwise a quality narrative that is fun to watch play out.
I’ve saved my favorite part of the game for last and that is the soundtrack. It might as well be a mix from The O.C. which is to say I absolutely loved it. The first licensed song that popped up was Syd Matters “To All of You” which was actually featured on The O.C. back in the day. It turns out the frontman for Syd Matters actually did the original score which is also wonderful. Throw in tracks from Angus & Julia Stone, Jose Gonzalez, and Bright Eyes, and this music is right in my wheelhouse. The soundtrack really helped to create some of my favorite moments from the first episode too. Like when “To All of You” kicks on as Max puts in her earbuds and makes her way down the hall at school. Or turning on the stereo before exploring all the small details of Max’s room. Life is Strange has a fantastic atmosphere throughout and the music is probably the main reason for it.
These types of adventure titles that put the emphasis on decision-making over puzzles really aren’t my thing. From The Walking Dead to Beyond: Two Souls, I have yet to be taken by this style of game. That is until now with Life is Strange. While it doesn’t seem to have a ton in common with Remember Me at first glance beyond the familiar rewind mechanic, it does have a lot of similar strengths. I loved the setting and music of that game and those are the aspects that really helped Life is Strange stand out to me. This first episode was an excellent introduction to this world and these characters and I can’t wait to see what direction this series heads in future episodes.