Life is Strange: Episode One Review
By Kevin Kennedy (Theonekk)
At first glance, Life is Strange appears to be simply Dontnod Entertainment’s attempt at a Telltale Games (The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us) style episodic game, down to the pre-title screen, which informs the player that choices will have far-reaching consequences. The art style of the game even looks vaguely Telltale-ish, albeit rendered into a smooth 3D with the Unreal engine. So is this game merely a ripoff of The Walking Dead?
Though the parallels are undeniable, this game offers something interesting. While games like The Walking Dead, The Wolf Among Us, and Game of Thrones stand out because of their in-game worlds, Life is Strange finds a niche in a world that would fit in with most CW shows. Max, the game’s main character, is a new student at an elite academy, and she feels out of place amongst the brainy and entitled elite. The characters at the academy, which feel cliche at first, gain a lot of depth as the game progresses. As you interact with others, it becomes clear that even minor characters have a lot to offer, and the dialogue, which comes across as overly stylized at first, quickly lends itself to the characters’ personalities.
The major plot of the game centers around Max’s newfound ability to manipulate time. In the early moments of the game, Max finds herself flung into the future, to witness a giant tornado destroying the town (and, presumably, everyone living there). While this Sword of Damocles lends a sense of urgency to the late moments of episode one, and will likely fuel the plot of later episodes, Max’s ability to rewind time gives this game a unique way to standout from other episodic games. As you progress, Max’s powers are used to solve small puzzles in unique ways, and gain information. Sometimes, this means giving the wrong answer to a question, then rewinding and giving the right answer. Other times, this means exploring dialogue options, then rewinding time so that Max appears to have known the information all along. In addition to the way they influence game play, Max’s powers make the player uncertain of his or her actions. In Telltale’s games, you know that your actions have far-reaching consequences, yet once choices are made, you have no option but to see where the action goes. In Life is Strange, though, I found myself filled with doubt every time the game informed me that my actions would impact the story. The ability to go back (but only a few moments) made me question myself, and wonder if things might have turned out better with a little time travel. Should I have stayed out of that argument, or should I have butted in?
Controls for the game are easy to pick up, though at times interacting with certain small or hidden objects, like light switches, is a matter of precision and patience. Despite this, I think that Life is Strange does a good job of mixing familiar controls from both adventure and action games, and and making them quickly accessible. Similarly, challenges offer a good amount of difficulty. Sometimes, finding the solution to a certain puzzle took me a few minutes, but the answer was always within my reach, though it occasionally I had to rewind and experience the same action multiple times in order to figure out precisely what I was supposed to do.
Overall, I think this game shines as something fun, well-written, and unique, despite its obvious influences. Life is Strange is like a combination of the game The Walking Dead, the movie Donnie Darko, a superhero’s origin story, and a teen drama. While I was initially skeptical of this game and its influences, the combination just works. If you like quirky, original games, or any of the things I just listed, download the demo and check it out. Life is Strange: Episode One is available now for Playstation 3 and 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, as well as Windows.