Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game. Maxine Caulfield has returned to her hometown of Arcadia Bay in order to attend Blackwell Academy for photography. After waking up from a nightmare depicting Arcadia Bay being destroyed by a storm, she proceeds to the bathroom to compose herself where she witnesses a girl getting shot. She immediately awakens back in class, discovering that she now has the ability to rewind time. With her new skill, Max goes back to save the student, succeeds, only to discover it’s her long lost best friend from childhood, Chloe.
Phew, that’s a lot of plot to summarize and that’s literally just the first ten minutes of the game. Essentially, Life is Strange is about Max and Chloe becoming reacquainted with each other, the mystery of Max’s powers, searching for Chloe’s missing friend Rachel, Max’s reoccurring nightmare of the storm, and social life in a senior’s high school. The hodgepodge of plot points may seem bizarre on paper, but every detail is woven together surprisingly well.
Gameplay is similar to most adventure games. Players can control Max who can talk to characters, interact with objects in the environment, and oh right, rewind time. Let’s go back to the bathroom scene as an example of how this key mechanic works. In the corner is a spiral, indicting time to X event, which in this case is Chloe’s death. If players can’t solve the past, the screen will go gray, freezing time in order for Max to rewind and try again. The solution for this puzzle is to move a mop bucket, pick up a hammer underneath, and then smash the fire alarm button, giving Chloe a split second to get away from her captor’s confused grip.
From that example, one could assume that this game has no penalty and they’d be correct. There are choices in the game, but players can play both sides before they figure out which decision suits their ideals best. Puzzles, in this case, are presented as a trial and error process, again, with no penalties other than time lost in reality. A game with no consequences may seem like an easy ride and yes, it is. Nothing in Life is Strange was frustratingly difficult. That may be in itself terrible for some, but the game is about time travel. How can a game whose central core is about rewinding time have death sequences? It wouldn’t make sense.
No, the challenge in the game comes from acceptance. Choices will affect the story, but the end will be the end no matter what, as is the case with most adventure games. It’s cliché at this point, but it’s about the journey. Watching Max change from a timid introvert into a bold hero along with her dealings with friends is brilliant. Everything is connected even if it doesn’t click right away. The end may be controversially split, but for this writer it was hauntingly beautiful, just, and exactly as it should have been. A whole day after finishing the game was spent contemplating choices and design choices. It takes a little digging in the soul to truly piece everything together and extrapolate what exactly the developer’s message was. It’ll be different, assuredly, with everyone, but that’s why Life is Strange feels magical. Be it love, or hatred, no one can get away from the game without feeling something profound.
Hah, and now for the gripes. The lip-syncing is off slightly, starting in the first episode, but improving from there. The music in the game is almost too indie, melancholy, and emo that it feels like a parody. The lack of difficulty, again, for some may be noteworthy to mention. The narrative is great, but like any great piece of art, it’s not without holes. And…that’s basically it. It’s rare to finish a game, look back, and seriously struggle to find flaws. The above comments are worth mentioning, but the positives far excel anything negative someone could find in the game. It’s just that good.
Life is Strange is a masterpiece dripping with style and is one of the most heartwarming, tear jerking, and thought provoking narratives in years. If he had played it last year, surely it would have ended up on his top ten list. More importantly, it now ranks as one of his favorite games of all time. Saying anything more on the twists LiS takes in both story and gameplay may ruin the experience. Trust this writer on this one, don’t dig any deeper than this review. Go in dark, buy it, and enjoy.
Score: 5/5 Stars
Special Notes: This article was originally published on February 2, 2016 via my Examiner account before the website shut down. Check out the supporting video review on the accompanying YouTube Channel, ReActionExaminer.