Welcome to "Life is Strange", a lovely story driven game by Square Enix where the title quickly becomes an understatement. Set in the fictional coastal town of Arcadia, Oregon, Max is a talented photographer attending the artsy and exclusive Blackwell Academy on scholarship. Her teachers hail her as the next photography superstar while most of her peers regard her with either open hostility or a sort of wary attitude. At the end of the day, however, Max is just a normal 18 year old with a love for vintage camera's.
But you see, Max has a gift.
She can reverse time, a skill suddenly discovered at the start of the game, and a core game-play element that defines the unique nature of this episodic game. Like Telltale's "The Walking Dead" or "The Wolf Among Us", your choices shape the world around you. How you respond to situations/questions will affect the story and your relationships with people. The difference is that Max can, on a whim, decide to undo her actions. Didn't like the way a conversation went? No problem, reverse time and pick a different response. Does someone require a correct answer to let you move on in the story? Just keep going back in time until you get it right. Too late to complete an action? Nothing a quick time reversal can't fix. Life's a breeze... right?
Reversing time doesn't make decisions any easier.
This is, in my opinion, the magic of the story. Every time a significant decision is made, Max will often second guess her choice, which in turn often makes you second guess your choice. What would happen if you'd stood up to a security guard harassing a student, instead of just taking a picture for evidence? How would being mean to a shamed bully differ from comforting them? Should you take the heat when your friend is being yelled at by their abusive step-father, or stay hidden? What are the further consequences of these choices? And believe me, there are consequences to your actions, and they show up quick.
You can always go back and switch your decision, but only until you leave the area. After that, your decision is locked, and from then on you can only brace yourself for the results.
The writing is phenomenal,
which has me on the edge of my seat for the next episode. New enemies are made, old friends are reunited, and mystery abounds with Max's nasty visions of an impending storm as her best friend struggles to find a missing woman. There are certain elements I felt were too glossed over (I found it rather odd that Max mostly takes her new-found power in stride, with hardly any inner monologue that wasn't peppered with "Holy shit I can reverse time!" beyond the first bit of the episode, for example). Hopefully, the coming episodes will avoid these odd lapses in otherwise great writing.
There're hardly any forgettable or one dimensional characters in sight no matter how token they may feel, which is rare in my experience. Almost everyone you meet seems to have a hidden agenda. No one is cartoonishly stereotyped (okay, mayyybe one).
Go play this game. Do it now. You won't regret the experience.
Available on Steam.
- Engaging story and characters
- Time reversal is a cool and unique feature to navigating the story and solving puzzles.
- The art style seems to softly mimic the comic book style of "The Walking Dead", minus all of the outlines, which makes for interesting visuals.
- Max's inner commentary is gold.
- Gameplay nice and straightforward, mostly. See below.
- Avoids hand-holding.
- Time skip can let you skip a conversation you've already heard to get to the actual choice.
- Time Reversal is easy enough, but simple interactions can be a challenge if you're not familiar with the "click-and-drag" UI style.
- Controlling your movements can be a challenge.
- Camera stuck in over the shoulder mode. It'd be nice to zoom out to take in the rest of the scenery as you see fit.