What if you could go back in time and change what ever you liked? Do you think you could make things better, or would every choice end up being a complex web of indecision? This is the conundrum that Dontnod's intriguing new adventure game, Life is Strange, presents - asking you to decide the best outcome for its hero Max, with the full benefit of hindsight.
Back to school
Understandably, the last thing introverted photography student Max expected was to gain the ability to rewind time. But, while it may not be something she asked for, her new power couldn't have come at a better moment when her new found ability allows her to prevent the murder of an old friend. It is a powerful start that forms the backbone to the often personal story, which deals with topics like drugs, domestic violence, and date rape.
With so many themes, it would be easy for them to feel scatter shot and throwaway. Fortunately, each element is handled with the care and attention it deserve.
The success of this is down to the focus Dontnod's writers have clearly given their work. This helps you relate to each of the teenagers (with some being quite likable and other being total jerks), a connection aided by nice vocal performances and an expressive art style. Max is a particularly good example, with her running narration of events feeling believable even in the surreal situations the game places her.
Let's go round again
Its no surprise that the game hangs so much on its story and characters as, in isolation, the puzzling gameplay would feel empty.
In part this is because Life is Strange suffers from the old adventure game problem of having to battle the designer’s frequently impenetrable logic. You never know exactly what you have to do on your first attempt in any given scenario, and thus find yourself constantly rewinding to try again despite the visual cues designed to help. While this is the primary mechanic, too often the number of times you have to replay a given zone becomes wearing. Even turning on the sprinkler to spray the mean clique of girls with water stops being fun after the fifth attempt when you still don't know how to progress.
The rewind mechanic also comes into play when interacting with Life is Strange's various characters. Here your decisions can have lasting impact, and you are able explore every possible option. What is interesting about this dynamic is that there are no good or bad choices (I still don’t know if it is better to comfort or ridicule the school bully), but once settled on you are locked in for the rest of the story.
Life is Strange is an exciting tale that utilizes its mechanics and episodic format brilliantly. Every chapter tackles a different topic to make it feel complete and satisfying in itself, while its overarching story keeps you coming back for more.