Its hard being a teenage girl, or so I’ve been told. Especially when you come back to your hometown after five years living in the big city. Even more so when your home town is filled with armed rich kids having genuine psychotic breaks, security guards determined to perfectly recreate 1984 and principals to drunk to care. Whether its dealing with bullies, trying to keep up with schoolwork or manipulating time, being a senior is a lot harder than you might expect.
Life is Strange Episode One introduces us to the picturesque setting of Arcadia Bay, a tiny coastal town with a prestigious art academy. The teenage girl in question, Max Caulfield, has lived here before, but has returned to the small town to study under a professional photographer. She’s awkward, charming and apparently very talented. She’s also a bit of a hipster. She’s completed obsessed with none digital cameras, indie music and all things counter-culture. Although it’s practically a requirement for going to an art school, the need to be different in both dialogue and thought can be a little, grating.
The story of Life of Strange walks a fine line between Telltale’s classic storytelling and David Cage’s unusual imagination very well. Although most of the characters are grounded to reality, there’s enough hints of the supernatural to intrigue people beyond the surprisingly tense teen drama. Rewinding time is the big hook of Life is Strange, and its used incredibly well.
Puzzles crop up a lot in Life is Strange but are completed in fun ways. Rather than simply getting thing and using it on other thing, Life is Strange is all about the order you do things in. At one point you’ll need to get an object balanced high above a washing machine. Turning on the washing machine drops the object into an unreachable place, so you rewind and place a net in that section and do it again. Its simple but very satisfying use of the rewinding mechanic.
But the big impact of the time mechanics was the dialogue.
There was a lot of concern that having the option to retry a conversation would take the tension out of picking the right answer or living with the consequences, but those fears can be put to bed. While Telltale enforces the snappy decisions and permanent fallout, Life is Strange and Square Enix set up the choices in a different manner. Whatever choice you make, the ability to make another one will however haunt you. With no immediate outcome, you don’t know if you’ve made the right choice or not, and will have to decide what to do besides.
In one section of the game you’ll find the security guard of the school harassing one of your classmates and friend. You can either intervene scaring off the clearly unprofessional guard and getting closer to your friend, or take a photo. While intervening might seem like the nicer, or at least the braver option, it paints you a target, and when you’re dealing with the wider plot line of Life is Strange, you might not want that attention.
On top of that, sometimes its worth replaying for different outcomes just to find see them. Different outcomes lead to entirely different conversations and vital pieces of information that might be missed. The only problem is deciding which option to finalize.
Decisions bounce back and forth throughout the story, which revolves around an ominous vision, a missing girl and a long-lost friend. Some aspects feels quite personal, while others seem a little over the top and larger than life. This episode isn’t very long either, clocking it at somewhere between 1 and half and two hours long. Although it serves as a good introduction to the cast and setting, the narrative isn’t entirely focused on one plot as it jumps from friend to friend and character to character without much linking them together.
It’s safe to assume the next episodes will start drawing all the different entities together, and it’s still very enjoyable to play, but it can be a little jarring to jump from whether or not to be nice to the school bully, to missing girls and conspiracies.
But the biggest disappointment in Life is Strange is the facial animation. The graphics are beautifully unique, capturing the way an artist might view the world in an imaginative way. Every photo you take, screen you spy on and poster to peruse is recreated in this light-hearted, hand drawn style. The world looks amazing, from the living and boisterous school hallways, to the lush green campus and realistic dorms. But the faces let the whole facade down. Every face seems has two given expressions, which consist of one emotion and blank. Speech is normally down in this blank staring face that never matches the whole acted lines. It’s such a shame that such a pivotal aspect of this emotional tour-da-force fails to connect, but the acting more than makes up for the visual mediocrity.
Life is Strange is a very good game for people who enjoy Telltales brand of storytelling or David Cages creative, slightly mad worlds. With a set of interesting characters to talk to, creative puzzles and a story worth paying attention to you once it gets focused. It has solid controls, beautiful graphics and a beautiful, suiting soundtrack of indie titles that match the mood perfectly.
If this renaissance of adventure genre is something you’ve been enjoying, than Life is Strange blends what you love with some interesting new ideas to create another strong contender in the series.
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