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Life is Strange (PC) artwork

Life is Strange (PC) review

"Life Ain't Grand"

Life is Strange (PC) image

Despite being around for decades, gaming is a medium that, in a grand scheme, is still in its infancy. The entertainment angle has proven true for about as long as games have existed, yet the zeitgeist of falling short as a storytelling form remains despite critical shilling of games poorly aping film. While games succeed like no other art form in some vital regards, many fundamentals of other forms (such as the editing of cinema or the prose of literature) are difficult to incorporate in this recent form. As a result, very few games succeed in telling excellent, meaningful stories in fashions no other form could; we're fortunate to get a Undertale, Spec Ops: The Line, and Deus Ex every several years to prove that games to explore the human condition, be more than an amusing anecdote. Unfortunately, this means story-centric games are a niche market that can be cornered with the right commercial approach, and thus even Life Is Strange clutches undue praise.

This point-and-click adventure follows Max, an aspiring photographer as she discovers her inexplicable time rewinding powers. She uses these to navigate her awkward social life at school, uncovering mysteries along the way. The scale of this time travel story is unique in that it focuses on interactions much more relatable to the audience than universe-ending cataclysms and what have you. Well, maybe it would be unique if it didn't rip off the love story of Blue is the Warmest Color and the time premise Riley Rewind, wholesale. And the supernatural forestry of Alan Wake. And the impending doom of Donnie Darko. And bits of the quirkiness of Twin Peaks. And the Telltale gameplay formula, can't forget that. And -- ok, you get the idea, it's as original as Modern Warfare 3. This could still be effective if the elements were not botched so badly.

Life is Strange (PC) image

For instance, the dialogue is some of the worst I've suffered through in any medium, with characters' accents and delivery and actual lines not working well at all. I should preface this criticism by acknowledging that the writers did not know or research the game's pivotal setting and demographic; apparently it doesn't matter if you put in the effort seen in decades-old works that still hold up like The Breakfast Club and Slacker,. Effort isn't necessary in writing! Characters say the most inexplicable things, straight-facedly spewing terms like "bidness," "awesome sauce," "amazeballs," and "sheeple" in their out-of-place accents. Freakishly exaggerated ways of speaking are used as characterization in lieu of actual human traits; LiS shoves one-dimensional characters in your face and expects you to care about entities without nuance and subtlety. Listing examples of these abysmal lines would be like listing specific glitches in Sonic '06: a herculean task that would erode one's soul as much as playing the game would. Suffice to say that having your characters talk unrealistically, regardless of self-awareness, doesn't make them relatable, especially when they are miscast voice actors, and especially when they possess the IQ of horror movie cannon fodder.

Life is Strange (PC) image

There are certainly no shortage of shallow jerks in real life, but a combination of unlikable and unrealistic traits produces no audience investment. This shows from the very start, for Max's very first mandatory waking action is taking a picture of herself in class with a Polaroid (with the flash on) as the teacher waits for people to answer a question. Upon Max's idiotic mistake, snooty classmate Victoria answers the question after who knows how long waiting, vomiting the immortal line "Now you're totally stuck in the retro zone. Sad face." This is not stylization; this is unrealistic nonsense. The major incident that puts Max in bad standing with the school is when she prevents a murder in the bathroom by waiting until seconds before the murder occurs to set off a fire alarm, needlessly incriminating herself instead of just simply intercepting the parties involved. Max's brain-deadness gets worse over time, forcing the player to constantly rewind to answer stupid trivia in order to convince co-protagonist Chloe of her powers... even though the game already established in-verse that Max's powers let her teleport -- power consistency does not exist here, which would be bad enough without the convenient Riley Rewind nosebleeds covering for the plot. Max's only defining traits are the moronic choices the game forces you to make as her, making totally unrelatable and among the worst protagonists I've ever played as, but driving force Chloe sinks even lower.

Life is Strange (PC) image

Chloe Price, Max's baffling and pandering lesbian love interest, is a truly despicable hedonist, yet she is depicted as someone for the audience not as a negative example making mistakes for the audience to learn from (see games like Braid or films like Citizen Kane) but a lowly victim to sympathize with and pity throughout Life Is Strange. She has no redeeming qualities, sitting around and smoking weed every day as she listens to awful indie rawk. She pointlessly antagonizes and worsens the lives of her well-meaning (yet no less stereotypical) family. She needlessly and moronically endangers herself and others via unrealistic actions for the sake of the plot. She speaks like a 70s-era AI trying to impersonate a grimdark punk emo. She clumsily references Blade Runner like someone who glanced at its IMDB page for three minutes. She has no code except to serve herself and whine about "the man" and whatever. There is no reason for Max to fall for her, save to shield the game behind progressivism. Having the driving force of your plot be an entity devoid of likable traits or subtle depth with every character being the source of awful dialogue, inexplicable actions, and even the occasional personality-180 for the plot.

Life is Strange (PC) image

So, the story in the story-game is as edifying and enjoyable as a train wreck. One would think that people liked this game due to a high tolerance for nonsense and an appreciation for good gameplay. No good gameplay here, though. While there's no Sierra-era adventure game badness, the puzzles are pure tedium, especially with Max narrating everything you need to do, erasing critical thinking and replacing it with checklist busywork. Most puzzles force you to get info and rewind to answer correctly, the equivalent of save-scumming through trivia questions. The other puzzles usually involve some sort of unnatural or immoral action, such as breaching others' privacy, even though Max gets another character in trouble for his investigation; remember, violate principles if it suits your agenda! Don't forget the broken stealth sections, too. Other puzzles include searching for five beer bottles for the lazing Chloe & making some stupid, conveniently activated Rube Goldberg machine to get a posse of skanks out of the way... even though you could easily step around them. Oh, and that latter puzzle also sticks the blame on the kindly janitor and forces you to choose between two interactions with the angry Victoria, even though acting nice to her sets you up as a perfect target and being mean makes her even more belligerent. Too bad you can't just walk around her as a human would! Too bad you can't make any logical choices in this choice-driven puzzle game!

Speaking of the "choices" you make. They don't matter. Within the first five minutes, you're forced to take a picture during class, forced to talk with your annoying hipster teacher, forced to save Chloe from her own idiocy. It doesn't matter what you say to the principal; you'll get in trouble. It doesn't matter if you choose to not talk with dorky Warren about your powers; Max'll spew exposition about what the audience just saw. It doesn't matter what you do with Chloe in an alternate timeline; it gets erased. And those I just listed are results of options the game gives you; most of the time you're not given any sort of choice screen, such as being forced to spy on a security officer to prove his spying or being forced to interact with bully Victoria in that stupid aforementioned puzzle. Of course, the two endings stink, too; contrived setup aside, they are not affected by earlier actions and in fact undo them. As if that wasn't bad enough, the vastly more selfish choice of the two endings is depicted in the more positive light!

Life is Strange (PC) image

I'm not one to lambaste an effort for merely failing. I'm acutely aware of the hurdles of artistic creation. And I/m certainly not one to harangue the many who enjoy an objectively awful work. However, I'm not one to idly stand by as standards for art are lowered, to elevate fool's gold to the pedestal of the work of the masters. To praise inferiority is to degrade superiority, and doing so compromises the works of the future. Although it can never be precisely measured and does not always influence an individual's experience with the work, a story's objective quality can be seen by how it insightfully reflects reality, but LiS does not do so. Life Is Strange tells you to turn back at every awful line, at every forced "decision," at every bad plot point. It is a game of illusions: the illusion of character, the illusion of choice, the illusion of poignancy. What is real is unworthy of collective remembrance in any sense save for the cautionary.


Follow_Freeman's avatar
Community review by Follow_Freeman (August 19, 2018)

When he isn't in a life-or-death situation, Dr. Freeman enjoys playing a variety of video games. From olden shooters to platformers & action titles: Freeman may be a bit stuck with the games of the past, but he doesn't mind. Some things don't age much.

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If you enjoyed this Life is Strange review, you're encouraged to discuss it with the author and with other members of the site's community. If you don't already have an HonestGamers account, you can sign up for one in a snap. Thank you for reading!

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Zydrate posted August 21, 2018:

You had... a very different experience than I did.
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Follow_Freeman posted August 21, 2018:

We all have our own experiences, don't we? As Tarkovsky said, "A book read by a thousand different people is a thousand different books," regardless of the immutability of the content itself. I think it's always good to have differing opinions at one's disposal since each has its own insight, even giving insight to the other opinion. Although if you have fond memories of the game, I'd strongly recommend against revisiting it and putting it under much scrutiny. Goodness knows I've had that sting enough times, even recently with a non-video game work.

also emp gave chrono cross and final fantasy tactics a 1/10 and 4/10 respectively so don't let me skip in line at the gallows jk
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EmP posted August 21, 2018:

I also bashed Doom 3, Metal Gear Solid and L.A. Noire. I meant every word, and apologize for nothing.

Chrono Cross was the worst, though.
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Masters posted August 22, 2018:

The thing with those Emp opinions though, is that they're wrong. There's a reason that after last year he started calling himself the Site King of Hot Takes.
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Follow_Freeman posted August 22, 2018:

Well, I enjoy a deviant opinion even if it's nothing like mine, since it challenges me to rethink my own and address theirs, although I usually don't do so by talking to them, because I don't want to get into arguments about video games on the internet.

Incidentally, when it comes to making a review, if I like the game, I try to write my review first, then check negative and positive ones to see if I missed anything. If I disliked the game, I check other opinions first to check if some sort of bias or oversight on my part is being made before I cement that by writing a whole review.

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