Life is Strange Review

Screenshot of Max from Life is Strange
Max, protagonist for Life is Strange

  • Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Release Date: 20 October 2015
  • Time played: 14 hours

Two things attracted me to purchasing a copy of Life is Strange: Firstly, the game is often described as being similar to the recent crop of Telltale Games adventures, which I have a soft spot for; and secondly, the game is very affordable (especially when it's on sale)! Also, despite me buying the game, it's actually a Christmas pressie for myself thanks to certain friends providing me the funds (you know who you are - thanks guys!).

So Life is Strange came seemingly out of nowhere (at least to me) but the game's developers, DONTNOD, managed to secure a publishing deal with Square Enix (a big name publisher). Not only that, but they've actually developed a game before Life is Strange called Remember Me (obviously, I didn't because I was shocked to discover I already have the game in my Steam library and it hasn't even been played yet!). Like Remember Me, Life is Strange was also developed with the Unreal 3 Engine, was also developed for Windows and current gen consoles, and also featured a female protagonist. So DONTNOD already had quite a bit of experience before developing Life is Strange, which is arguably a less complex game to develop than their previous effort (although with an even greater focus on story).

Before I start with the review, I thought I'd just let you know that I played this game all in one go (i.e. I didn't wait for each episode to be released) as the final episode to the game was released in October last year and I purchased it only a few days ago. I'm not sure if having played the game episode by episode or not would've altered my final review, but I thought I'd just put it out there since you never know; some of you guys might have an opinion on this, one way or another.

Plot (5/5)
Life is Strange follows the story of a teenage girl called Max who is returning to the town she grew up in called Arcadia Bay in Oregon. She's returning because she wishes to study at Blackwell Academy which is considered an excellent institution to learn the art of photography, which Max is really keen on, well, at least if you consider taking selfies with an old polaroid as professional photography. Anyway, Max ends up being witness to a meeting gone wrong which ends up in someone being shot. Max instinctively raises her hand and wills the shooting to stop only to then discover she can actually stop and rewind time. The rest of the game involves her figuring out why she has this special power and the meaning behind her nightmares. Although, a certain old friend of hers thinks her power should be used towards other goals.

The game, as to be expected, has a lot of teen drama considering most of the main characters are teens and the game is centred around Max's school, Blackwell Academy. However, in the later episodes, the tone of the game definitely becomes darker. the later episodes, the tone of the game definitely becomes darker.

I quite enjoyed the plot since the overriding theme here is that things aren't always what they seem or you can't judge a book by its cover. This applies both to the people you meet and the situations you face (as is the case with many tales of time travel, they tend to be cautionary ones).

Gameplay (4/5)
Life is Strange is similar to many of the recent crop of games by Telltale Games: it's basically a fancy visual novel or third person Choose Your Own Adventure. Most of the game will involve a lot of talking to people and then making choices. These choices will change how the story pans out, just like in the games by Telltale, but unlike the games by Telltale, you now have a rewind feature that allows you to change your mind. Towards the beginning of the game, the rewind ability is the silver bullet if you've ever wondered how to win friends and influence people and, you know what? I felt kind of cheap using it. However, I persevered and things thankfully came full circle with respect to learning not to abuse the power, so all is forgiven DONTNOD. You did good!

The ability to rewind time creates some interesting opportunities as well in terms of problem solving since Max stays in the same spot and holds on to the same inventory items while rewinding back in time; think about that for a second and you'll realise the possibilities this opens. It's much better than simple item hunting (although there is a bit of that too) or the use of Quick-Time Events (good news for any of you who hated the QTEs in games by Telltale).

Sound (5/5)
The game has quality voice acting thanks to professional voice actors. Chloe's voice actor (Ashly Burch) is especially good.

Music (4/5)
There aren't any memorable tunes, at least to me (since the style of music in Life is Strange isn't something I'd normally listen to) but it definitely amplifies the emotional impact of particular scenes and fits perfectly for a game where the majority of characters are teenagers.

Graphics (4/5)
The game was developed using the Unreal 3 Engine so it's probably no surprise that I got a Mass Effect 3 vibe while playing the game. It's a refreshing change to see a Telltale-style adventure game without the Telltale-style comic book visuals as Dontnod aimed for a more realistic look with Life is Strange. The only issue I have with the game is that lip-synching can be a bit off at times.

It's a refreshing change to see a Telltale-style adventure game without the Telltale-style comic book visuals...

Replay (3/5)
You've got the usual plethora of Steam trading cards and achievements to collect. One of the benefits of the achievements are that most of them are actually optional and are awarded whenever you decide to go out of your way to take a photo of something (which encourages you to explore and experiment with your surroundings). It's a much better way to entice players to return back to play your game instead of Telltale's system on The Walking Dead where everyone's a winner! Thanks for watching!

Just as it was with Telltale's adventure games, I found it hard to stop playing Life is Strange since I found it gripping stuff. I wanted to keep playing the game until the end!

Polish (4/5)
I'm not a big fan of the control scheme; it's obviously influenced by console controllers where you would have to hold a button down while selecting things with a stick. I would've preferred if it were point 'n' click or at least a WASD + mouse setup without the need to hold the button and drag. As it stands, it's not the most intuitive setup.

While there weren't many bugs encountered while playing this game, they do still exist. For example, one time the game was attempting to download content but ended up freezing instead.

Score – 8/10

Telltale Games had better watch out because, as they say in Street Fighter II, "Here comes a new challenger!" For those who like their adventure games to be more like an interactive movie than a puzzle game, Life is Strange doesn't disappoint. In fact, it's probably slightly better than recent Telltale offerings in the puzzle department thanks to its puzzles involving time travel.

Life is Strange is available from these retailers:

Is the game worth $19.99 USD?: Yes. Despite the game being not as challenging as good ol' point 'n' click adventures, it's a very strong offering for the niche that Telltale has carved for itself and it's slightly cheaper.

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[ LINK: Official Life is Strange Website ]