Life in technicolour and pop culture references.
Life is Strange is a curious little game. The game’s main aspect of rewinding time, and therefore causing a butterfly effect, adds a unique twist to choice gameplay you’d typically see in games from, say, Telltale or Quantic Dream and even offers additional dialogue options as a result. It’s an interesting mechanic if nothing else to describe it as such.
The first episode of a five-episode run sees high-school senior Max move from Seattle back to her childhood home of Arcadia Bay, Oregon to pursue her passion of photography, but is suddenly thrown into the crazy deep end when she discovers she can rewind time after winding up in the loo and sees someone get shot after a disagreement, causing a butterfly effect.
That person is Chloe, Max’s best friend who she hasn’t seen in five years since the latter left for Seattle.
I bring them up because their relationship will surely be a key dynamic to the rest of the series, but one that offers some insight to the game’s bigger plot, the disappearance of Rachel Amber, who struck up a friendship with Chloe in the time Max has been gone from Arcadia Bay.
It’s an interesting premise that takes shape in episode one with shades of Gone Home perhaps sprinkled a bit over it as it tries to tell a tale of teenage adolescence (DontNod said at the game’s reveal Life is Strange started development before Gone Home released). Some of the backstory put into the world, such as Max’s journal entries or the other characters you can interact with at Blackwell Academy, is fascinating to explore at length.
The performances put into the two main roles – including Ashly Burch as Chloe – is for the most part very good, but there are times where I do feel some of the episode’s biggest moments and scenes on Max’s part are underselling the severity of the situation.
And be warned: Life is Strange is pop culture overload, with references to the ‘Buller. Buller. Buller’ scene in Ferris Buller, animes Akira and Fullmetal Alchemist, The Twilight Zone and even Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. Surely, a bit of an in-house gag similar to Deus Ex: Human Revolution’s Final Fantasy XXVII gag or Murdered: Soul Suspect’s joke on DX:HR?
Life is Strange’s art design is absolutely wonderful. Even with the odd pop-in texture then and there early on, it’s just staggering to think how all of it, if not most of it at least, was hand-drawn. Its lighting at times is also quite excellent too.
But Life is Strange’s soundtrack is perhaps the big clincher for me. In the first episode alone, there’s appearances from Sparklehouse, an incredible song choice by Angus & Julia Stone and two songs from Syd Matters, who’s lead singer composed some of the original score, some of which itself is lovely.
But it’s a scene midway through the episode that nails the game’s soundtrack. You’re in Max’s room and, in unison with it playing on your stereo, you’re playing along on guitar to Jose Gonzalez’s Crosses. It’s wonderful.
So yeah, it’s rough around the edges, but there’s promise for Life is Strange yet in this early going. DontNod have four episodes yet to realise their ambition, but if done right, I can honestly see it up there in the year-end lists. For now, it’s a promising start.
Player statistics as of March 24, 2015
Disclosure: This is based on a final Xbox One digital copy of Life is Strange, provided by Square Enix. Life is Strange is out now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360 and PC via PlayStation Store, Xbox Live and Steam with subsequent episodes coming later this year.