How will you use the power to change everything?
Life is Strange is the second major game release from a development team that approaches its games from a different angle than most game creators. DONTNOD Entertainment’s first release, Remember Me, seemed on the surface to be a standard sci-fi action-adventure (and in IGN’s review of Remember Me, we found that it stumbled trying to deliver traditional combat and parkour instead of fully investing in the more interesting aspects of the game,) but underneath were ideas of memory and identity and presence. Even more intriguingly, these ideas were often explored through gameplay rather than cutscenes and exposition.
This idea of gameplay-derived storytelling is what Life is Strange fully commits to. All the rote action mechanics of the past game are gone, and so are the overwhelming sci-fi cityscapes and grand corporate conspiracies. This game swerves down a different path in order to give gamers a more personal story, played with the accessible mechanics of an adventure game. Here, you simply play as a teenage girl coping with life in a quiet town. Over the course of the game, you do find that Max is no ordinary girl, and that Arcadia Bay is a very strange town, but even as the mystery ratchets up, the roots of everyday life remain. Max will discover a fantastical ability in the game, but for players, the most powerful tool to wield will be good sense in listening and observing what’s going on around you, because your choices will ultimately be what leads you to the end of the game.
IGN has reviewed all five episodes of Life is Strange. You can find links to these episode reviews through the links below. UPDATE: You can now also follow IGN’s reviews for the follow-up/prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm to see how Life is Strange has evolved after the release of the original series.
VERDICT: Life is Strange suffers from awful voice acting and writing that doesn’t do its characters and world justice. Dontnod has created great scenarios for a story I’m eager to learn more about, but the moment-to-moment interactions with people in Max Caulfield’s life are pretty painful. Archetypal characters with weak lines and worse delivery don’t ruin everything, but they make it harder to buy into a story that’s trying so hard to have heart.
VERDICT: The ramifications of my actions in Life is Strange: Episode 2 – Out of Time have more than earned my interest in the rest of the season, even if it means enduring the inconsistent character performances and awkward writing. Even though I sometimes don’t believe in the way these characters speak to each other, I buy into them as people. I care about Chloe even though I don’t like her — she’s troubled, has feelings, and needs to lean on Max even though she won’t admit it. I let people down to help others, and discovered interesting and unexpected aspects of Max’s life. Out of Time is a big step in the right direction for this series, and it says something that I’m willing to endure its worst bits to enjoy its best.
VERDICT: Chaos Theory doesn’t bring many major moral choices to the table, but it doesn’t matter – Max’s evolving time-travel power is growing into something bigger and scarier than she ever expected. This episode poses interesting philosophical dilemmas instead: How far is too far? What is the cost of saving a life? Should anyone be allowed to have this power at all? The people at the center of this story are so engaging that I’m starting to outright ignore awkward dialogue, because the emotional gravity of its storytelling is so much stronger than the irregular out-of-place line or questionable dialogue delivery.
VERDICT: Dark Room is the most complicated, conflicting episode of Life Is Strange yet. It sets up a finale that could be a genuine stunner, but there’s a lot resting on its shoulders. That finale will need to even out the drastic and disappointing change in tone established in Dark Room, which compromises its characters for the sake of a cool mystery. An emotional intro and devastating outro show how well Dontnod can handle both separately, but the hours in between leave so much to be desired in terms of marrying these people to their story.
VERDICT: Episode 5: Polarized is a fascinating exploration of a teenager deeply affected by loss, trauma, suffering, and failure. This is not the coming-of-age story Life Is Strange pretended to be early on, though. Polarized is destructive, unquestionably the bleak climax of the murder mystery that’s been dormant during most episodes, and it only somewhat works by the time Max Caulfield arrives to her ending. It’s disappointing to see Life Is Strange lean into its angrier story threads to complete its otherwise-touching human story, but its emotional closure and character resolutions make this a more memorable ending than its unnecessarily dark plot twists.