Review: ‘Life is Strange’ episodic video
Episodic video game “Life Is Strange” lives up to its moniker in the most poignant and well-done way.
Developer Dontnod Entertainment and publisher Square Enix released “Chrysalis,” the first episode of the five-part series, on Jan. 30. The next four installments came out every other month until the fifth episode, “Polarized,” released on Oct. 30.
With each coming episode, the player experiences a new set of dilemmas, choices and consequences – all of which compound into a gaming experience that teeters between gripping and emotionally heavy, depending on the player.
From the drop, reviewers have given the game a variety of reviews, most of which were good. Steam users have given the game “overwhelmingly positive” reviews, with other websites giving individual episodes perfect or near perfect reviews.
Venture Beat reviewer Evan Killham gave the final episode a 90 out of 100 rating, stating that the ending will break the player’s heart and brain – but in a good way.
“Life Is Strange’s” conclusion is as effective and powerful an ending as we could hope for,” Killham said. “It’s been an emotional, haunting, and often ridiculous time following Max and her friends on their timey-wimey quest, and I’m going to miss them.”
Indeed, the story was the hallmark of the video game. However, some reviewers have pointed out the drawbacks of this narrative focus.
Steven Strom of Ars Technica said that, while the story-based ambience is spot on, the dialogue, constant self-reference and design choices do not always nail the mark.
Overall, though, these flaws do not mar what is otherwise a superb gaming experience. For those who have yet to play the game or those who have yet to experience the final episode, potential spoilers lie ahead. “Life Is Strange” focuses on player character Max, a senior photography student at Blackwell Academy, a prestigious art high school in Arcadia Bay, Ore. She wakes up from a vivid dream to find herself in the middle of a class lecture.
As class dismisses, Max walks to the bathroom and observes various forms of foreshadowing alongside showcases of the game’s aesthetic.
Hand-painted visuals give a certain life to the otherwise obviously polygonal characters, while the indie music soundtrack gives the school and the game a near-hipstery and youthful vibe.
There is also an air of mystery and moroseness, as seen with the numerous posters for a missing young woman named Rachel Amber. However, the true crux of the story starts to unfold when Max photographs a blue butterfly that flutters into the restroom.
A young man walks into the women’s restroom before a similar-aged girl walks in after him. After an altercation, he shoots her dead. Max reaches out as if to save her.
The next thing she knows, Max is back in the classroom, reliving the class experience she just had.
At this point, both Max and the player learn of Max’ ability to rewind time. Max takes advantage of this ability to save the girl, who turns out to be childhood best friend Chloe Price.
Throughout the rest of the story, the player follows as Max and Chloe investigate the disappearance and various strange happenings around the town.
All characters’ stories intertwine in some way, shape or form, which provides a compelling storyline that builds up until “Polarized.”
However, the mechanic that provides the weight for much of the game’s gravity is the decision engine. The choices the player makes will influence the path of the game.
Some changes are minor, like determining whether to water a plant or meddling with a whiteboard.
Other choices have far more major consequences. The game signifies those to the player in various ways, and the ramifications will change the course and context of the story. Regardless, the player will feel it when something goes right or wrong.
This mechanic is the best part of the already-compelling story of “Life Is Strange.” While dialogue occasionally falls short or ramps up the cheese factor, the ever-twisting plot keeps players enthralled until the fallout of the final decision – arguably the biggest of the game.
Outside of the story, the biggest plus of the series is the sound. Between ambient noise and the heavily-indie soundtrack, each scene and episode has great sound.
Further, each voice actor provided a unique feel to each character, particularly Max and Chloe’s voice actresses.
Conversely, the game does lack visually in some aspects. While the aesthetic is beautiful and admittedly perfect for the indie feel, some noticeable character model hiccups and mediocre lip matching gets distracting in close ups.
Those are about the only flaws in the five-episode series, though.
With a gripping story that puts weight into the game’s many important choices, “Life Is Strange” sets itself apart from other playable narrative-style games and from other episodic games.
It may not be perfect, and it will drain players emotionally. But this game will definitely stick with players for a long time. – 7.5 out of 10 Polaroids.
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