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Review #20: Life is Strange

There are always some highly rated games that you are ignorant about but have to compulsively purchase on a Steam sale. For me, Life is Strange was one of them in this year’s summer sale. I had already picked up Episode 1 as part of a Humble Bundle much earlier but never played it, so it seemed apt to complete the collection. I usually don’t like being left stranded at cliff hangers, a reason why I don’t usually watch in-progress TV shows, so starting off with all the episodes in my kitty felt good.

However, I made the purchase with a certain degree of trepidation because I haven’t had the most enjoyable of experiences playing episodic, multi-choice games. I played Season 1 of the Walking Dead earlier in the year and it unravelled the workings of the episodic formula to me. It goes something like this. You will have to wander about a scene speaking to all the people to find the right clues or equipment. You will make a lot of life-death decisions that seem huge for the moment but turn out to be a bit trivial in the larger context of things. You will have extremely emotional conversations between the characters that ought to wet your eyes and set tears flowing. Rather expectedly, Life is Strange turned out to be true on all those accounts.

However, where the game differs is in closely knitting story elements like photography and time travel within the story. Being able to rewind time would seem to take a lot away from the decision making as it allows you to undo any mistakes but this aspect is in fact encouraged within the game, even offering you critical new dialogue options. The game doesn’t feature puzzle solving in droves but being able to use time travel to solve them seems cool. The deduction puzzles that feature towards the latter part of the game seem to be more of a chore as it isn’t too challenging and may lend to players adopting a trial-error approach. The game feels best only when it simply tells you the story and the music really takes you along for a ride.

The game’s redeeming moment is when it manages to pull off a twist towards the end of Episode 4 but it leads to a somewhat disappointing final act. The stealth nightmare sequence felt like a rip-off of Max Payne’s dream sequence and a desperate attempt to break the flow of the game and introduce something different. The game leaves a lot of unanswered questions as it jumps across alternate realities. Also, it feels a bit too scripted to the point where dialogues trigger a “who’s that” reference after you have already identified the person. The fact is that the game is set up to only tell you a story and the gameplay elements just don’t seem that integral.

To be the devil’s advocate, the story, an emotional one, is par for the course for games belonging to this genre. The game really works if you can relate with the protagonist Maxine and her friend Chloe, but for me that wasn’t quite the case. Max’s character is well laid out but I found the voice acting to be quite cringeworthy for the most part, especially during emotional scenes. Also, I could not generate any empathy for Chloe through the story and it didn’t take me a second to *spoiler alert* sacrifice Chloe to save Arcadia Bay. Hence, the game really fell apart for me towards the end. Also, the time rewinding and the story going back to the beginning at the end means that the choices made throughout matter precious little and the game offers little replayability.

On the whole, however, I would leave a recommendation for this game because it will appeal to a lot of players, especially casual ones. It certainly achieves what it sets out to do, though the gameplay falters a bit. Depending on how you approach the game, it might even leave a lasting impression. As for me, I can forget the game this very moment as I move on to Deus Ex: Mankind Divided whose story telling and gameplay feels more up my alley.

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