The Nintendo Resolution: Life is Strange

Console: Steam / Playstation 4

Start Date: September 6, 2016
End Date: November 25, 2016

After finishing Beyond: Two Souls, I guess I hadn’t had my fill of playing as a moody teenage girl with superpowers, because I immediately dove into another game which fits that description.

Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game published by Square-Enix.  I actually played through the first episode on Steam way back in September and really enjoyed it.  But I didn’t take the plunge on the full game until it showed up for a discounted price on the Playstation Store.  I plowed through the first episode again as quickly as I could, and then dove into the rest of the game.  I’m so glad I did.

This is the story of Max Caulfield, a photography student at a boarding school in a small coastal town in Oregon.  After witnessing a violent altercation involving her estranged childhood best friend, Max discovers that she has the uncanny ability to rewind time and change the immediate past.

After Max reconnects with her old friend Chloe, the pair get involved in a mystery that involves a local girl who’s gone missing, an elite social club on campus, a photography contest, a bunch of dead whales, and lots of other crazy shit.

Every review you read of Life is Strange will inevitably draw a comparison to Telltale Games‘ body of work, due to the narrative-based, choice-driven adventure gameplay.  And the influence that Telltale has had on this developer is undeniable, but this is a real “student becomes the master” type of situation.  Everything that has become stale with the Telltale formula – the lack of genuine player imput, the inconsequential choices, the endlessly retreaded concepts – feels fresh and innovative and exciting in Life is Strange.

I refuse to spoil a single thing about this story, but I will say that the reason it ends up working so well is the strength of its characters and their relationships, particularly the two leads.  I played this game together with Carla and we both fell in love with Max and Chloe.  They’re just so goddamn cool.

Max and Chloe are punk rockers, but since this is a mainstream video game, what that means is that they listen to a lot of melancholy indie rock.  Which is fine – the soundtrack plays a big role in setting the mood of Life is Strange, and this kind of stuff is a perfect match.  When you walk into your school’s hallway and get to explore the gameworld for the first time, to the tune of the song To All of You, it’s one of the game’s most powerful moments.  Later, you are given the choice to advance the game’s story, or to just lie in bed for a while listening to Lua by Bright Eyes.  I stayed in bed.

And although no actual punk rock appears in the game, there is a weird and entirely unexpected shoutout to, of all bands, the Groovie Ghoulies:

Aside from the narrative, the actual gameplay is also a huge step up from the usual Telltale formula.  Making choices is still the crux of it, but Max’s “rewind time” mechanic adds a whole new layer to this process.  Rewinding allows you to get a little “preview” of your choice’s immediate effects, and then go back and experiment with other options if you want to.  As a result, when you finally lock into decisions, they seem to have much weightier and far-reaching consequences than those in Telltale’s games.  I’ve never felt regret this strongly while playing a video game before.

Another thing that’s always bothered me about Telltale’s post-Walking Dead formula is how it’s exorcised the type of lateral-thinking puzzle-solving that adventure games have always been known for.  Life is Strange brings that shit back in full force, and incorporates it seamlessly into the narrative.  One of my favorite segments of the game came near the end, where Max spreads out a ton of information that she’s acquired throughout the story, and the player is tasked with piecing it all together and making connections.  It’s such a simple little thing, but it might be the best representation of “detective work” that I’ve ever seen in a video game.

The game also looks great.  At first, the graphics turned me off a little bit, since I couldn’t help but directly compare them to the hyper-realism of Beyond: Two Souls.  But once I accepted Life is Strange‘s more stylized graphics on their own terms, I was constantly blown away by their beauty.

There’s a lot more I could say, but I am genuinely afraid of spoiling anything.  So I will just say this:  If you’re a fan of Telltale who is starting to get a little sick of their bullshit, then please don’t hesitate for a moment.  Play Life is Strange immediately, okay?  Developer Dontnod Entertainment really impressed me here and I look forward to their next project – which seems, shockingly, to be an action-RPG about vampires.

Below are galleries for both the Playstation trophies I collected, as well as the choices I made in the game.  Both are chock full of spoilers, and presented only to pat myself on the back, so please don’t look at them until after you’ve played the game!



Picross 3D Round 2

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