Game Review: Life is Strange (Episode 1)

This game has been on my radar for a bit but until now it just kind of sat on my wishlist. At the time I added it, I still had my faithful old PC that ran retro games like a champ but couldn’t run anything else.

Now that I have a shiny new PC, however, I can get back to playing some more tech heavy games, and this one’s been on my radar for a bit (especially since angry dudebros seem convinced that it’s part of some feminist conspiracy to ruin gaming).

Sadly, Life is Strange isn’t the misandrist fantasy the Steam forums are painting it as (although it’s not anti-feminist by any means) but what it is is a pretty solid adventure game with interesting choices and potentially very interesting consequences. 

Life is Strange is an episodic point and click adventure game where you play as Max, a photography student who ends up saving her friend Chloe’s life by discovering that she has the power to rewind time. The pair soon find themselves exposed to the darker side of their town as they begin to uncover the truth behind the disappearance of a missing student while Max struggles to come to terms with her mysterious power.

Life is Strange is a cross between teen drama shows like Dawson’s Creek with a bit of The Longest Journey, and the game covers a whole slew of issues from teen pregnancy to mental illness to conflicts with authority figures, but the time travel mechanic adds an interesting layer of choice and consequence and turns save scumming into an actual game mechanic. Basically, you’re free to rewind time as often as you want, but when you reach a certain point (when you move to the next area) your choices are locked in and you can’t go back and change them. The game also indicates when you’ve made a choice that will have consequences later, either later in the episode and/or later in the game. For me, the appearance of the butterfly warning me that my actions would have consequences was actually kind of ominous, and unlike Telltale adventure games, you generally aren’t forced to make snap decisions (although one instance in the episode is timed) and can take your time agonizing over which choice to make. Are you nice to the girl who is constantly bullying you, or do you add insult to injury when she’s embarrassed in front of her friends? Do you warn someone when they’re about to be hit by a stray football? Do you poke around in places you probably shouldn’t be poking around in? There are many choices in the first episode alone, some of which (such as watering your plant) I didn’t encounter at all, and characters will remember your actions. In my case, I tried to be polite and helpful, but ended up not endearing myself to a character who turned out to have a pretty important role to play in the episode.

Graphically the game is pretty and the licensed soundtrack is awesome and I feel is especially appropriate for the setting.

If I had one criticism of Life is Strange, it’s that Max can come across as kind of hipster-ish and pretentious (although she herself admits that she is kind of a hipster) which might not be out of the ordinary for a typical teenage girl (it’s been a long time since I was a teenager) but in the end it didn’t really detract from my enjoyment of the first episode.

In terms of potentially triggery things there’s some violence against women, and in the second instance the perpetrator says that the victim “deserved” to be slapped, a mention of an attempted rape, and a portrayal of someone who is possibly dealing with some form of mental illness being violent and aggressive.

Overall, Life is Strange sometimes suffers from pretentious-sounding dialogue but it’s a solid adventure game with plenty of teen drama and a nice time travel mechanic to keep things interesting and choices which seem to matter in the grand scheme of things. If you like Telltale’s adventure games but which there was a bit more realism to them or you enjoy(ed) shows like Dawson’s Creek, this will probably be right up your alley. Even if you’re not a fan of the sort of high school drama I’m talking about (I wasn’t) but you want a well-crafted adventure game to sink your teeth into, I’d encourage you to check this one out.

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