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Life is Strange (PC) artwork

Life is Strange (PC) review

"An absolutely enchanting experience with a great soundtrack."

I reviewed this game a long time ago when it just had the first episode out, and I'm here to revisit some of those thoughts.

For the record, There will be massive endgame spoilers, because it's hard to talk about this game without addressing some of the backlash.

Life is Strange released in an interesting fashion, bringing some competition to the point-and-click adventure genre that was currently (and frankly, still is) dominated by Telltale Games. It sells itself episode by episode, five dollars a pop. You can choose to get the whole package or just one at a time as your funds permit. After an hour into it, I had bought the entire thing because I was absolutely enchanted by the storytelling and most of all, the music.

The interesting thing is, I could barely tell what the actual game was. LiS was a sort of gateway drug for me, I ended up buying a few Telltale games AFTER playing this one. The screenshots were all scattered around the various cutscenes and the tags were vague like "Story Rich" and "Choices Matter" (oh yes, we'll get to that, spoilers to come). I didn't really know what the big deal was until I actually understood that this whole trend was the resurgence of the point and click genre.

Life is Strange is a game I wished I had started my gaming life with. This nagged at me for a while after I saw the "Made with the Unreal engine" logo pop up. My gaming life started in earnest with the very first Unreal so it already gave me a sense of nostalgia as I played it, but my first gaming experiences were that of violence and basic primal needs to survive. However, LiS is calm and serene with a soundtrack that damn near perfectly sets the tone in every scene. I'm not even a real follower of independent bands, but I've loved every track.

The interesting thing about the music is that it is very often, contextual. You generally only hear it when there's speakers, or when Max puts on her headphones. If not, there's usually a void of sound where you just let the atmosphere take you in. I remember one sequence of walking down dormitory hallways. There was no music, but could hear muffled showers behind closed doors, leaking pipes, and morning birds chirping outside.

We follow Max Caulfield, a photography student returning to her home town of Arcadia Bay after a five year absence. She catches up with Chloe Price, whom Max saves from being shot and discovers that she can rewind time, which ties into the core game's mechanic. Being able to rewind through conversations but keep learned information, and you can use that to your advantage. Chloe is an old friend who has had a rough few years with a deceased father and an overbearing stepfather. She lashes out at Max every now and then, so her damage is clear.

Navigating social structures is part of the game, which I did not expect to enjoy. You can basically pick and choose how you treat various characters throughout the entire game. Will you be empathetic to the local rich alpha bitch, or turn the tables on her at every opportunity? Will you try to rekindle your friendship with Chloe, or try to keep her at arms length because of how she has led her life in recent years? All of these things manipulate events and conversations and there's invisible "point" values attributed to these characters depending on how you act towards them, and that can affect how cooperative they are in later episodes.

The game does a good job of wanting me to see what happens next and I imagine that same style will translate well into future installments, including the up and coming "Before the Storm", where we will follow Chloe and the time that predates Max's arrival.

Now, there are a couple of flaws and one of them will include the spoilers I previously mentioned.

The obvious one; the lip syncing is some of the worst in the industry. The game's graphical style is compared to paintings, to which the game does very well. It looks great, but somebody somewhere dropped the ball when the characters actually open their mouths. It takes a full episode or two to adjust and get used to, but the game's other qualities help me overlook it. Many other reviewers did not agree, and it haunted them through their entire playthrough.

Other reviewers talk about very bad attempts at teenager speech and lingo. I however... didn't notice, to be honest. I raised a brow at the use of "Hella" and when Max said "Are you for cereal?" I cringed, only to be recovered when Chloe herself called Max out on silly slang. Everything else I barely noticed, including the "Cool Kidz Club" comment from one character, which I legit heard in my own teenage years. Granted, that does make this outdated but the fact is that to me, it existed.

Now, to the backlash the game received. Last spoiler warning.

Branching storyline games with character choices constantly get this wrong, no game has yet to perfect this. In order for choices to actually matter, the game has to give us like nine or more different endings. Mass Effect 3 made this mistake and paid for it. Life is Strange made the same mistake, and was next on the chopping block.

You see, throughout the game it becomes "clear" (in a muddy sense) that Max's constant manipulation of time is what was causing a massive hurricane to come and destroy the town. She gets several visions of this throughout the game and she slowly unravels the mystery. At the end of the game, she discovers that saving Chloe in the beginning actually causes it. Other forms of media have covered the "Butterfly Effect", and this is basically their version of it. At the end, Max can either rewind all the way back to when Chloe got shot, and let events unfold as they were 'meant' to be... Or allow Arcadia Bay to be destroyed, forsake the power, and leave town with Chloe (Possibly as lovers if you made some specific choices). Cue "Bay or Bae" memes.

If you're following this line of logic, you might already be angry. Despite all the choices, the endgame effectively boils down to two choices, and neither one gets manipulated in any way throughout the game.

...Honestly? It didn't hurt the game for me. I mentioned earlier about how your choices affect certain social structures and that's really what drew me in. Choices did in fact have consequences, they did affect how people treated you and my first game was mostly a "nice" run, wanting to be as nice to everyone as I possibly could. I mostly succeeded, save for a few stubborn jackasses but hey, those exist. Can't please everyone.

Ultimately I chose to let the Bay be destroyed. The game implies that everyone dies but I don't think that's realistic. In what is essentially a "Headcanon", I like to imagine many people were in shelters, underground, surviving. The government might come and help rebuild while survivors live in a sort of encampment just out of town while repairs go underway.

So frankly, I cannot remain annoyed at the endings for very long. In a world short of LGBT stories I wanted so hard to avoid the dreaded "Bury your Gays" trope and just imagine Max and Chloe living happily ever after, but perhaps with a bit of survivors guilt in the mix. Which would make a great sequel by the way, with more choices and social navigation!

Alas, other than Before the Storm, future games of this series will not involve Max or Chloe (allegedly). Developers have already said that they have entirely new characters planned.

I for one, will be following this series to the bitter end. All aboard the feels train!


Zydrate's avatar
Community review by Zydrate (June 28, 2017)

Zydrate is most active on Steam and Tumblr.

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