Developers: Dontnod Entertainment
Publishers: Square Enix
Plot: While Max and Chloe explore these new time-travelling powers, trouble brews. The visions of a hurricane headed for Arcadia Bay are getting stronger and a viral tape has devastating consequences for a fellow student.
Life is Strange revels in being that one game that just had to be different. At first, the episodic, choice-ridden style doesn’t seem that new, Telltale have being holding down that corner of the market for some time now (although we are all glad to see someone else having a crack at the genre). But, as you play Life is Strange, you instantly know that Dontnod are going to go for something a little different. There is a bigger emphasis on story here. I know most games are saying that these days, but Life is Strange really goes for this. It spends most of its running time on developing characters and the slow-burning mystery hidden in the shadows and its one big set-piece involves a train, rather than any sort of enemy. Not to mention that the style of it all seems to fully embrace the Indie gaming style. The soundtrack is the kind of thing hipsters drool over (it lacks a kick to me, but the general consensus of the public is that it works, so I won’t count this against the game in my review), Chloe comes across as the ideal cosplayer muse and when the game isn’t tackling story, it is slipping in pop culture references wherever it can (I never thought Primer would ever get an Easter Egg in a game). So, yes, Life is Strange offers an experience no one has ever quite had before, and as we hit the second game in the series, that kind of becomes its strong points and its downfall.
I can’t decide if the mystery element is good or bad. To go into further detail, there is a mystery at play here. One, why has Max suddenly got super-powers and what has that got to do with the crazy weather patterns? Two, what happened to Rachel Amber, Chloe’s best friend who went missing. Three, what is up with the paranoid security guard, the Prescott family and the dirty RV dotted around the game? Not to mention the smaller puzzles with the supporting cast, as they wade through college dramas. Mystery is Life is Strange’s stronger point as we are hooked on getting to the bottom of the enigma, especially as there are a few characters still not fully explored, but almost definitely involved in some level. Who else thinks Mr. Jefferson is just a little too nice not to be revealed as a dick somewhere along the line? However, while we are entering Episode Two itching to get back to the mystery side of the game, it doesn’t ever feel like the developers share that desire with us. In fact, Life is Strange doesn’t really seem to acknowledge itself as a mystery game. The clues are all there sizzling away in the background, certain background details sticking out and promising future implications, but the main crux of the story never seizes them. At the moment, Life is Strange is willing to class itself as an Indie superhero origin story, as Max and Chloe experiment with her time-travelling powers. On one hand, putting the mystery to one side does allow the game to breathe slightly, so it can focus on some fun mini-games. You predict the future in a local diner, by letting the game play out thirty seconds and then rewinding time and answering a pop quiz on what just happened. It also helps build the characters, so these college stereotypes begin to feel more and more like actual people. Yes, I guess putting the bigger story on hold does allow these small distractions to truly hit home. But, at the same time, Out of Time doesn’t really go anywhere, drifting along, not properly answering any of the questions hovering over the ending of Chrysalis. I am sure we will get to that in due course, but don’t come into the second episode expecting any OMG moments. Well, maybe just one in the final scenes…
It doesn’t help that Max Caulfield is such a wet sponge of a character to play. She is frustratingly indecisive and a little dull. I get the idea of that nervous nobody in college who keeps herself to herself suddenly becoming the deciding factor in this massive conspiracy and supernatural mystery, but it is still difficult to bond with Max. Peter Parker was the school nerd, but quirky, with a sense of humour we could relate to. Kick-Ass was the school wimp, who found courage in his alter ego. Max has none of that, merely drifting through the story and taking every event on the chin. Hopefully, her character will develop over time, but you cannot help but wish her transformation would get a move on. She is referred to as Nancy Drew, exactly what we want from this game, but when she promises her friend to gather clues on a viral video floating around the college, she doesn’t actually do that, instead going to a local diner to catch up with old friend, Chloe. Several moments crop up in the game, where you wish you just had one more dialogue option to use. Talking to one of the bully’s friends, Taylor, is awkward, because you expect a confrontation, yet your character’s dialogue options only really offer attempted nice things to say. Where is the ‘stay the fuck away from me?’ option? With other choice based games, namely Wolf Among Us, it was fun, because you got to create your character’s development. Was he rough-edged cop who got results but damaged relationships, or was he the misunderstood hero? We are trapped with Max’s character and it makes the interactions with the supporting cast slightly harder to enjoy. Chloe is much more exciting as a character, instantly an internet sensation. The rebellion, the blue hair, the attitude – I want to play Chloe! Sure, her dialogue still makes you cringe (“ubercool” and “amazeballs” – who wrote this script?!), but she is a refreshing breath of fresh air, whenever she struts onto the screen.
But Life is Strange is hardly a painful experience, even if it does appear to be a little under-achieving. It is a great, little world to spend three hours in and if you purchased the season pass like me, you are under the illusion that you got these three hours of pleasant gaming for free. It is fun tracking down the optional photos, giving the player a decent excuse to break away from the story and just wander around this beautifully created world for a while. The scrapyard is particularly beautiful and fun to wander around, the landscape dotted with visual clues that build up the background of the story. I like the use of social media and texting in this game, as it fits the mood brilliantly. It helps fortify the bonds you have between the various characters and also helps keep them in the loop. Life is Strange has a format that separates the college scenes from the Chloe scenes, so it is important to keep the characters constantly at the forefront of our mind with the smaller details, so we lose the sense of importance everyone has. Yes, once again, Life is Strange provided a great adventure and a riveting story, especially a finale which could drastically split gamers down two roads of story, depending on their previous choices and attention to detail when it comes to map exploring and dialogue selection. But there is a sense that it needs to start accelerating, if it is going to hit the heights we all want it to reach.
Final Verdict: If you played the first episode, Out of Time will hold no surprises in terms of gameplay. It will reward the patient, but frustrate everyone else.