Who recalls Remember Me? Dontnod’s debut had some interesting ideas with the memory manipulation but didn’t really offer much beyond that in its core action orientated gameplay. Life is Strange also explores this memory manipulation but in a vastly different and more realistic setting of a college in Oregon, rather than a futuristic Paris. It’s is a bit of a departure, less action orientated and caring more about the narrative and setting. Given how these were the best bits of Remember Me, this episodic adventure is an interesting sounding curious; but do the point and click mechanics hold up?
It’s clear that this passion project looks and sounds great, with the whole aesthetic being reminiscent of American melodramas of the early 2000’s. Voice acting flows naturally and is a great performance by most of the cast. Perhaps the one small bugbear is that textures pop in when each new area loads, which takes away a lot of the immersion. Ajar doorways that act as invisible walls also suspend belief somewhat and one bug in particular due to some exact timing produced an hilarious result.
But really these are minor issues. Examining items and talking to people is the core strength of the game, with time rewinding being the pivotal mechanic tying the whole experience together. Since Max Caufield, our protagonist, remembers everything she sees or does, she can rewind time to undo any ‘mistakes’ she might have made, even if she discovered new information along the way.
Thinking about how your actions have implications is one thing, but figuring out how to cover your tracks is another thing entirely making this puzzle element all the more intriguing. That said, Life is Strange is very light on the point and click puzzles. Usually it involves tampering with an item before using a different item, which as far as point and click puzzles go is pretty weak. But the story is fascinating enough to warrant seeing all the different outcomes that the puzzle light design doesn’t really bother me.
Please note that the following episodic reviews may contain spoilers.
Episode 1 – Chrysalis
After hallucinating a storm and a lighthouse, Max wakes up in the middle of her photography class with a start. Deciding she needs to freshen up after her experience, she heads to the bathroom only to witness the murder of a young girl by another student. It is here she discovers she has the power to rewind time. After a few tests, she decides to try and alter the timeline by saving the girl, thus setting in motion a string of bizarre events.
Like many recent Telltale games, Life is Strange adopts a lot of dialogue options where things you say have a consequence. You could say yes or no to a person making a sketch of you as their new muse and that consequence happens to be if your sketched portrait goes onto social media. There are more crucial spots where you are warned that leaving the scene locks in your choice for a particular major event. It’s not obvious where certain choices are leading either, though given that you don’t have a certain time frame to make a decision you are able to contemplate certain choices.
You’ll meet a cast that on the surface seem rather two dimensional at first glance, but as you interact, these characters open up a little more. Important choices have multiple ways of resolving themselves, either granting you immediate gratification at a cost or scorn with the potential for a bigger payoff by the game’s end. Will hiding the truth of why that fire alarm went off really pay off? Should I have intervened when the security guard was hassling a student?
As the episode rolls on, little details hint at the immediate consequences of my actions, such as Max’s mother texting her depending on what was said to the principal. As things progress, we have subtle revelations about certain characters. Of course, I won’t spoil details, but I did empathise with one character’s sense of loss and desperation to bring her lost friend back.
Chrysalis is a strong opening episode, setting up important plot points along the way that I’m sure will pay off in the coming episodes. This is one story I am keen to see through to its conclusion and I hope the next episode keeps the momentum going.
Episode 2 – Out Of Time
What starts as a relatively normal day for Max escalates into comforting Kate the best she can while exploring your powers further with Chloe. Here you’ll meet Joyce for the first time and see why she’s revered so much, though depending on certain events from the first episode and how they played out, there may be a degree of sass. Dialogue in this episode is generally of a more realistic quality, but they don’t sound like teenager dialogue.
While the first episode concentrated on establishing the narrative and the power itself, Max discovers that there are limits to her powers, especially if she’s overusing them. It’s a narrative arc that a lot of film and comic books uses about superheroes and it’s effective here. There are however some pacing issues through the middle of the episode where things get a bit slow, but there’s great character development throughout the episode that it makes up for it.
But if you strip away the supernatural elements and conspiracies, this game is increasingly becoming more about a person juggling between conflicting demands. With the ability to rewind you can see the immediate consequences, but beyond that it’s difficult to tell what is the best choice to make. Choices are becoming more important as this episode progresses and it can only escalate from here.
There are times where the game breaks immersion slightly, such as the puzzles in the scrap yard. Aimlessly trying to find a random bottle is slightly frustrating and being able to hold onto items obtained after rewinding doesn’t make much sense. On the whole though, the difficult second episode ends on possibly the most dramatic gameplay and narrative twist possible. I certainly won’t spoil that, but it’s something you’ll probably talk about to someone about.
Episode 3 – Chaos Theory
Without giving away the climax of the second episode, we begin with Max coming to terms with what just happened as she sneaks out to meet with Chloe. As you break into the college during the dead of night, you not only begin to unravel the mystery behind Rachel’s life, but also find out a bit more about what Chloe’s going through to an extent.
Interestingly, as Chloe begins to understand your powers a little more, she waves off some of your actions by saying that you probably tried the other method already. It’s a sign that you shouldn’t get too complacent with your decisions and I found that in this episode more than others that I tended to stick with my first choice. This doesn’t make the decisions any less important, but the futility of rewinding back to see what would happen is more obvious here.
Puzzles retread (perhaps more so than Episode 2) the whole grab X items to progress the plot, but Chaos Theory is where we see dialogue puzzles get more complex. One sequence in a diner requires you to learn clues from one NPC to get information out of another; with three subjects in total to question. It’s the next logical step and it works wonders. A couple of time-travel puzzles are also thrown into the mix and help flesh out the chapter.
It seems that Dontnod have realised that some of the lingo in previous episodes were not representative of teenagers; but even though “hella” is used only once and ironically at that, there are plenty of other sins that the dialogue commits. Some strong performances from the voice-over cast in particular this episode, despite some iffy script-writing.
Your actions in previous episodes seem to come to more resolutions here. Depending on what happened in your playthroughs, the experience will be different in many respects, meaning that your choices do indeed matter. As was previously thought, the idea of Max juggling so many things in the air at once is becoming emotionally stressful. By injecting new layers of complexity, we see more of how the game is evolving both in its narrative and its gameplay.
Then there’s this episode’s cliffhanger… Oh boy, things are getting really interesting, really quickly.