Life is Strange is like watching a coming-of-age movie as an adult and realizing how simple life was back in the day. Walking down your school’s hallways, the only thing you had to worry about was remembering if you packed your homework the night before and if the guy or girl you liked would finally talk to you. There were the occasional cliques here and there, and even if you didn’t talk to everyone, you still knew some of your classmates’ names and what made them tick. Yes, life was strange back then as we were all trying to leave childhood behind and get ready for adulthood. But what if life were just a tad stranger? What if your name were Max Caulfield?
Max is like any other teenager just trying to fit in. Having moved back home to attend her senior year at a boarding school known for its photography program, Max just feels out of place. It’s like being a stranger in a place you used to know and not knowing how to make everything familiar again. Not to mention, everyone seems to think she’s a loner and the mean girls pick on her for not wearing stylish clothes or caring about her appearance. Yes, Max is human and also easily relatable, making her feelings and her thoughts believable. She’s also a teenage girl, so her opinions of her classmates, the motivational posters lining her school, and even her guy friend Warren befit her age – awkwardness and all.
Having such a young, everyday character as its protagonist makes for an intriguing interpersonal experience, and the choices you make in Life is Strange – even the most innocent ones – can impact the overall course of its narrative. That’s the format of most episodic games, after all, and while the choices you make in this Chapter 1: Chrysalis may not seem that impactful, they do plant some interesting seeds that will hopefully flower over the course of the game’s five chapters. You do get to see some early repercussions, and hopefully we see more to come.
To add a twist to the old episodic gaming formula, Life is Strange offers you the ability to travel back a few seconds and undo your previous choice. This gives you the option to see what would have happened if you chose to tell the truth or lie about something Max saw, for example, or intervene when a security guard accosts one of your friends. You’re not really cheating, and you don’t have to undo your actions if you don’t like. This option simply gives you, the player, another choice while playing and changes up the otherwise linear style of the game.
There are instances, however, where you do need to time travel simply to get past a certain obstacle. For example, not knowing the answer to one of your teacher’s questions won’t get you out of class during an emergency, but hearing the right answer and rewinding time lets you cheat and answer it like a pro. Time travel also plays a role in certain puzzles and situations where you’ll need to act fast before you miss a time-sensitive opportunity and retry it from a more opportune angle. It’s a bit like Prince of Persia: The Sands of Time mixed with Ghost Trick: Phantom Detective and works to add some magic to Max’s everyday normalcy.
Life is Strange’s visual and audio presentation also work hand-in-hand to give you a sense of familiarity despite some of the more supernatural things that occur to Max during her day. The music for example, featuring a calm and cool mix of sounds from indie rock artists, seems attune to an indie movie like Juno or The Perks of Being a Wallflower, and grounds you into thinking you are watching an actual person’s life play out. Life is Strange’s visuals, on the other hand, and its gorgeous palette of soft colors and hand-drawn models offer just enough imagination room for the rest of what happens to Max to easily blend into her life without seeming too out-of-place. It’s the perfect combination and leads to the game’s unique sense of magic realism. The only issue I had was with its characters’ lip movements not matching their words, as it often distracted from the significance of an important scene or dialogue.
Having played Life is Strange, I was left wanting more – not because the game lacked anything I wanted but because it did a wonderful job introducing us to its unique cast of characters and some mysterious overarching plots. Its time-traveling component doesn’t add enough to the game to truly make it a pivotal component yet, but it’s the emotional journey of its central characters that definitely have my attention. Despite only lasting about three hours, there’s plenty to love and admire about the first chapter of Life is Strange. Let’s hope its subsequent chapters deliver more of what made it so good.
Life is Strange is available for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. The game was reviewed on PS4.
- A soundtrack that perfectly complements the narrative
- Gorgeous visuals and hand-drawn art style
- Evolving narrative and choices that matter
- Out-of-synced lip movements