Life is Strange was one of the most pleasant surprises I’ve experienced in a video game. The game had not been on my radar, but I picked it up on a whim this month when it was offered as June’s Free Game of the Month for PSN subscribers.
Life is Strange places you in the shoes of Photography Student Max Caulfield, a High School Senior at the prestigious art school Blackwell Academy. Max is an incredibly gifted but shy student, who discovers that she has the ability to manipulate time, a power that drives the game’s plot. After experiencing a vision that shows her town of Arcadia Bay being destroyed by a violent tornado, Max sets out alongside her troubled best friend Chloe Price to save their home.
Life is Strange’s gameplay focuses on decision-making, which will feel familiar to those who have played one of Telltale’s games, such as Telltale’s The Walking Dead. For those unfamiliar with the system, the game revolves around conversations and controlling the character’s reactions to those conversations. Life is Strange puts a twist on this feature by adding the time travel element. Using time travel, Max is able to see the outcome of every decision and try to decide the best outcome. Life is Strange does a great job of balancing this by making most decisions sit in a gray area, instead of strictly black and white decisions.
Outside of decision-making, the game allows Max to explore Arcadia Bay, allowing players to interact with the world, which Dontnod Entertainment has done an outstanding job of making a living and breathing place. Throughout Max’s exploration, players are able to initiate conversations or use Max’s time-travel powers to alter events as they happen around her. One of the main focuses of Max’s character is her love of photography, which Life is Strange acknowledges by adding photo opportunities as collectibles throughout the world. Personally, I’ve never been driven to find collectibles in most games, but Life is Strange made it feel rewarding and natural and I made it a point to track down each photo opportunity. The game does present some frustrating moments, including one of the world’s most annoying fetch quests for bottles and a mind-numbing stealth section, but for the most part, the good outweighs the bad.
Life is Strange also creatively uses Max’s time-travel abilities for a variety of puzzles throughout the game. Some are incredibly straightforward, but there were a few instances where I was stumped and had to take some time to work out the correct course of action. These puzzles are enjoyable and they add a cool spin to Max’s time travel abilities, but after spending up to fifteen minutes trying to figure out how to solve them they can be slightly annoying.
While the gameplay isn’t exactly revolutionary, Life is Strange’s story absolutely shines through as one of my new favorites. By the end of the first episode, I felt connected to Arcadia Bay and the people living in it. The decisions I made had weight because the game helps you to care about the people around you. Not only does Arcadia Bay feel like a living, breathing place, but the characters are incredibly complex and feel like real people. The standout performance is Max’s best friend Chloe Price (Ashly Burch), the relationship between Max and Chloe is one of the game’s greatest strengths. The game also provides a strong supporting cast for Max and Chloe’s adventure, and the way that you approach each character carries implications throughout the story. While at times the dialogue could be a little awkward or clumsy, it never failed to feel authentic.
I would be remiss not to mention Life is Strange’s soundtrack, which is one of my favorite soundtracks of all time. The music of Life is Strange elevates the story and more dramatic beats, and it feels like its own character. The soundtrack is carefully tailored using licensed music from bands such as Jose Gonzalez, alt-J, Local Natives, and Foals. After each episode, I made it a point to track down the songs on Spotify and I’ve been listening to many of them on repeat since I started the game.
The music of Life is Strange elevates the story and the more dramatic beats, and it feels like its own character.
Overall, Life is Strange in an incredibly unique and immersive game, delivering one of my favorite stories I’ve experienced in gaming. It made me feel real emotion for the characters and invested me in the drama. The major decisions carried weight and genuinely made me feel invested in the outcome of the story.