I am no stranger to episodic games that rely heavily on story and setting to pull a person in. Life is Strange has a lot of similarities to titles from Telltale Games or the King's Quest chapters, but it does enough interesting things of its own to stand out as a unique and generally enjoyable experience.
Immediately the art style really stood out to me. Perhaps in part due to the somewhat lackluster visuals of so many of the Telltale games. While not as distinctive as the style used in Blues & Bullets and not quite as attractive as those found in King's Quest, Life is Strange makes for a visually arresting title due to the quality of its painted visuals.
Our story follows the coming of age story of a high school senior named Max Caufield who has a passion for photography. The adventure starts off in somewhat mundane fashion, but I applaud this choice because it allows us to get to know Max and to immerse ourselves into her world. In fact, it is this world of hers that stands out as one of the game's most memorable attributes. Some characters are vitally important while others are merely window dressing - but isn't that life at times? Life is Strange does a commendable job of developing a world around Max, showing us how she lives in it.
However, the ordinary life that Max leads soon takes an extraordinary twist that allows Life is Strange to do something unique when compared to other narrative driven games of this style. Max has the ability to go back in time and change how events unfold. I actually enjoyed this aspect of th game quite a bit, as many of these story-heavy games give the player choices to make along the way that can impact different outcomes along the way. Rather than the tried and true 'save and go back and replay' methodology gamers such as myself have been using for years, you can simply roll back to an earlier point in the story and take a different swing at events.
This works better as a gameplay mechanic than a narrative device, however. There are some moments in the story that get a little squishy and start to resemble plot holes if you linger on this mechanic too long and its in-story implications. In fact, there are several tangents in the story that were left hanging, even after multiple routes taken through the branching narrative that were never as completely cleaned up as I would have liked. These quibbles aside, I found the overall experience of Life is Strange to be a very compelling one.
That is the key here: experience. Like so many other similar adventure titles, there is more story than game to be had here, though the time travel mechanic does help to make this title feel like much more than just a walking simulator. Still, in the end, Life is Strange was all about the experience for me. Events started off in mundane fashion and slowly escalated into so much more over time. The characters are compelling, if sometimes oddly written in terms of dialogue and phrases they use. Perhaps the most interesting and unfortunate thing about Life is Strange is that the narrative is stronger in the beginning than the end.
Too often story-driven games like the Telltale titles wind up with a weak first episode because they have to set the stage and frame the world that the story is being told in. Here Life is Strange excels, with a powerful cliff hanger at the end of the first episode. It is almost odd then, how as the stakes are ratcheted up with subsequent episodes that they became less compelling to me. That is not to say that the package is not worth experiencing, because it absolutely is. I just found myself enjoying the earlier chapters more than the later ones, but the overall story is one that is worth experiencing from start to finish.
Like most episodic games of this nature, the entire package is not terribly long and each episode can feel somewhat short. I definitely recommend giving this a binge play if you do pick it up. There is a very cinematic quality to the story, the way scenes are presented and the excellent music and voice acting. Life is Strange will likely not be for everyone, but if you enjoy the genre, then I can safely recommend this as one of the better examples from it.
Article by Nick