Not many games will place you firmly in the shoes of an 18-year-old girl that loves photography, but in Life is Strange, you get to hear every thought and feeling of Max Caulfield.
Max is a senior, who recently moved back to her hometown of Arcadia Bay, after gaining a scholarship at the Blackwell academy. Max is presented as a fairly ordinary, somewhat awkward but likeable teenager. She always has her polaroid camera with her, preferring to speak through her photography than be popular with the rest of her classmates.
Early on in the game, Max is a witness to a crime and discovers she somehow has gained the power to rewind time. Using these powers, Max can change the past to affect the future. When using her powers, Max retains any knowledge she’s learnt and her physical position within the world. For example, late in the game’s first episode, Max can learn some disturbing information about a certain character. Through rewinding her actions, Max can then cover her tracks so the person involved doesn’t become aware that Max knows some of their secrets.
The puzzles are fairly simple but purposely so. The main draw of the game is the interactive story, though disappointingly, in this first chapter, we don’t get to see any real consequences of our actions. After every major decision, Max wonders to herself if she made the right decision and what might have happened if one had set her on a different path. I have to admit, this made me feel a little weird. My recent episodic adventure decision making has come from the school of Telltale’s The Walking Dead, in that you’re given 10 seconds to make a quick fire, no-win decision that you know will have major consequences. Here, I’m given the chance to change my mind and I didn’t even question myself until Max expressed her doubts.
You’re left trying to second guess the game with the eventual outcomes and guessing how characters involved will react. Most of the surrounding cast seem fairly ordinary. There’s a group of rich, cliquey girls who find any excuse to rattle on Max and her friend Kate. Kate is a quiet girl with seemingly more to her than meets the eye. It becomes fairly clear early on that we’re going down the small-peaceful-town-with-a-lot-of-dark-secrets-underneath route with Life is Strange.
I really like the look and style of the game. The visuals are a kind of microcosm for Max’s world. Max often says how she sees the world as if looking through her camera’s viewfinder and this leaks out into the game at large. For the most part, the game is bathed in golden sunlight and a warm colour palette. The framing of the cutscenes and the use of light is visually striking and has more in common with what we see in film than in video games. The use of music and vocal songs is well done as well, again echoing the kind of usage we see in other types of media. Even the in-game menus take place within Max’s world as they act as her diary and you can read up on characters or recent events that has happened to Max. The characters have a sculpted look about them, particularly noticeable in the hair. The style is similar to something you’d see in a CGI film, although obviously not as high in terms of detail.
As the end of the episode approaches, you’re left with a premonition and a lot of questions. Characters who seemed trustworthy might not be and vice versa. I feel it’s too early to say anything concrete about Life is Strange because this first episode doesn’t feel like enough. While the story ends at a decent cutting-off point, I feel like I haven’t really seen anything significant here. Furthermore, the time-rewinding feels underused. While I’m sure the next episode will solve both of those problems, personally I feel the first episode should have been able to stand alone more.
All I can really say about Life is Strange at this point is that I found it promising with potential. While I enjoyed it and want to see more, this first episode feels more like a demo than a first episode on its own right.
Food for thought:
1. My impression is that each future chapter is another day in Max’s life, which only makes me wish these episodes were releasing sooner so all the little details from each episode would be fresh in my mind still.
2. If anyone is interested and wants to compare the major decisions, my own spoiler free actions are as follows: I told the truth. I comforted her. I intervened. I stayed hidden.