Want to create a narrative based video game about high school and time travel? Well now you can! First, get five large bowls to separate the content over an extended period of time. Next, fill awkward moments you remember in your teenage years to the brim and sprinkle in sprinkles of science fiction. Mix and stir until satisfied. If not satisfied, rewind the entire mixture until satisfied with outcome. For the second batter, make sure to add more sprinkle of time travel to engage the plot.
Minor spoilers ahead!
While we wait for the next installments for DONTNOD Entertainment’s five chapter video game series, ‘Life Is Strange,’ I am happy to see some impressive improvements within the story, including some raisins within the story that could be flattened out before shipping it out.
What is this game? What can I expect in this chapter?
Life Is Strange is a narrative based game where you follow Max, a high school student who returns to her hometown to enroll in an exclusive photography program. Upon arrival, she meets with cliques and loners of all kinds while attempting to make sense of what has become of Arcadia Bay. One day, she discovers she can rewind time and alter the future by her own foresight. Still, the mystery of how these powers came to be and the reoccurring nightmare of a tornado destroying the town is main source of the game’s mystery.
In the second episode, ‘Out Of Time,’ Max spends most of her time with her old childhood friend, Chloe, who has gone from happy-go-lucky teenager to rebellious troublemaker in recent years. After some time, she confines and proves that she can manipulate time, which (rightfully) astonishes and excites Chloe to no end. Still, while her friend is happy to see this superpower, Max has other issues in mind, as one of her dorm mates is incredibly depressed of an explicit video leaked online. On top of that, the security guard and principal are constantly watching her every move, believing that the story of Nathan bringing a gun to school goes ignored. Even with all the powers she has, Max may have let these powers finally go to her head.
What’s the gameplay like?
Like the prior episode, using the ability to rewind time and see all the outcomes of your choices is super exciting! Usually in these situation, I feel inclined to save a new file in case I make an error that I could not possibly foresee. With this mechanic, I can easily make one choice, go back, make the opposite choice, and decide which outcome I prefer the best.
One of the great things about this mechanic is that even with the choices I make, there is no right answer. I could tell Kate that she should go to the police to report the rich kid’s actions of drugging her at a party (where I could be threatened again by Nathan) or I could tell her to find her own evidence (which posits the threat of hopelessness if there is none). Sure, this seems a little bit unrealistic in contingency with reality, but thankfully the game does hone in on this mechanic well.
Another aspect that does not go unnoticed is the attention to detail of the scenery. Plenty of details around junk yards, diners, and the school dormitory gives off the vibe of small town America that I have not seen on such a scale. You can observe the picturesque colors of a sun setting before turning around to a sharply written graffiti titled ‘I just want to die!’ You can look across inaccessible areas and still get a presence of something beyond a hill or building and not just walking through an ‘All-American’ museum scene. Mixing both the beautiful and disturbing qualities that fester through this fictional city is not always completely reflective of all high schools, as the repetitious graffiti comes off as if the game was preaching to you, ‘Look! It’s just like high schools! Everyone is upset and brooding!’ Still, the amount of detail still is stunning and admirable from the overall project, with hopes of becoming more organic as the episodes continue.
One clear distinction I particularly enjoyed is the impact your choices can make, which I felt was a weaker aspect of the Walking Dead video games. In the later, when you make a choice, you can choose which person will die over the other person, sort of a tug-of-war between two extremes. While enticing, that is not how reality plays through and there is a significantly worse outcome in most situations. In Life Is Strange, however, your choices will absolutely decide an important outcome within this chapter. I will not give it away, but I held my breath as all the choices and all the details I took in were incredibly essential in this episode’s climax. It has been a long while since I have felt such a strong sense of relief and worry in a video game’s story at this magnitude.
Sounds great! Anything else I should know?
Sadly, there are quite a few aspects that would make me see this game as a hit-or-miss scenario. For one thing, you can see some pixelated textures up close on leaves or the ground while the light from the sun is magnificent. It seems as if the game is incredibly polished in the designs of showing expressions and colorful imagery, but needs plenty of work in sharpening close images and designs.
One major drawback is the lip sync, which is incredibly odd to say in the video game. I feel like the developers were trying to make this game easy to translate across the entire language spectrum, but they completely forgot to issue a standard language to base it off of! In any case, the flaps of the mouth do not move in accordance to what most characters are saying, which has brought me out of the experience plenty of times. I was able to overlook this in this chapter, but I can definitely see how many people cannot become immersed with a design flaw such as this.
On top of that, the whole game plays out like one of those high school melodramas you see on television, somewhere along the lines of Degrassi and Glee. You know, like every episode has this explicit conflict that could be life threatening or dangerous or risky where in most American high schools it would be rather mundane? Or perhaps how you can easily look at any characters and see exactly who the nerd, the bully, the jock, the troublemakers, and the loners are based on previous unoriginal archetypes? I understand that Life Is Strange’s hook is the ability to reverse time, but it seems like the clichés of these stories cannot be escaped.
The final major gripe I have to address is the plot holes that exist when Max uses time travel. In one instance, Max can decide to shoot or not shoot a potentially dangerous man who Chloe owes money to. You can reverse back in time, which I did, and I discovered that Max actually starts to make an attempt to leave with her friend before the man comes. Sadly, for reasons yet unknown, her powers only go so far back and cannot warn her before the man enters. I find it strange that Max cannot quickly just go up to Chloe, whisper to her, ‘Hey, a strange man is coming. Let’s hide,’ and then just avoid the situation entirely! At this point, you can feel that game is pushing you into a situation you probably could have avoided all together.
So, what do you think of this episode?
I was upset at the first chapter, considering that everything was drawn out and nothing truly original spoke out to me. If anything, the mystery of Max’s power really was keeping me on to see if anything developed. Thankfully, the game improved incredibly, as not only did the gameplay become exciting, and even tense at times, but the story and development of characters have begun to make their ways out of the clichéd molds they once were created for. At this point, I’ll accredit the game for having a slow beginning and an improving story along the way. If anything, I’m even more excited to what is happening next chapter! With several hours poured into this game already, I can officially say Life Is Strange is time well spent.
+ Enjoyable gameplay while reversing time
+ Engaging dilemmas for all characters
+ Genuine atmosphere of small town America
+ Choices actually create impact in story
- ‘Incomplete’ designs of lip syncs and textures
- Inconsistent time travel choices
- Archetypical characters aloof