There is an interesting moment in life is strange when you begin to realise that your character, Max Caulfield, really doesn’t know what she is doing when it comes to time travel and that whatever decision you make, there is no clear good or bad outcome. That the game allows you to see both the short term outcomes of the binary choice before selecting your “preferred” option is fascinating, but what is wonderful is that the game never really shows you the “unintended consequences” of your action until it is far too late to reverse it. Herein lies the joy in playing life is strange – the game is wonderfully set up, gives you enough information to make you feel like you’re able to make an informed choice, but ultimately, you’re never really sure how your actions are going to play out – just like in real life.
That each decision carry’s weight – some on a small but emotional scale, others on a much grander or more serious note – enriches the game further. This is not a game you play through, it is a game you inhabit – you very much play the role of the characters, feel like you get to know them and get to make decisions on their behalf. Some of those decisions will immediately resonate with you, others will feel alien and uncomfortable but it is almost always fascinating to play through a game where the actual manipulating of the control pad is secondary ore even tertiary to the main components of the game itself. Just like in real life, the material side is often less important than the moral, emotional or even spiritual aspects and the decision making at the heart of the game is undeniably the standout component that makes the game such a joy to play through .
Of course, the decision making of itself is not sufficient to make it a great game. Yes, your decisions carry weight and are carefully implemented, but LIS has a significant supporting cast when it comes to describing what makes the game so great. Firstly, the characters are mostly excellent. They are believable, flawed, richly described and almost always well voice acted. Sure, some of the dialogue is a bit ropey, but by and large you feel like you are playing a role in a real living and breathing town with real people in it. Secondly, the soundtrack and art design are both first rate. While the graphics are pretty much passable, the slightly stylised environments are beautiful and the accompanying sound track is always complimentary and never intrusive. In particular, there are a couple of scenes and even loading screens where the original soundtrack or carefully selected songs just add to the emotion.
Then there is the plot. Part, clichéd teenage angst centred story with sci-fi time travel chucked in for good measure, part exportation of causality and what it means to be friends with someone, part murder mystery. It shouldn’t work, but it does, mainly because the characters are so well written. I loved getting to know Max, creating my own theories about who the serial killer was all the time wondering what the hell was going on with the doomsday hurricane that was coming. It sounds like a hot mess but really, it all just comes together and works so well.
As you can probably tell, I loved Life is Strange, even despite its problems. Sure, there are a couple of issues with pacing, not really communicating the option to explore very well earlier on and the pacing across 5 episodes doesn’t quite work. In fact, this is probably the most frustrating thing – initially released in 5 episodes, the climaxes of each are interesting and well thought out though do feel a little forced (cliff-hanger from 4 to5 in particular) and I cant help but feel it is best played ignoring the episodes and breaking as and when you like. Also, bits of the plot are sort of dull – I was, for example, simply bored by being able to wander around the same house for the 3rd time to find some car keys. GET ON WITH IT I wanted to scream.
However, these problems are minor. Play life is strange and you will have a wonderful story and characters to invest time in, a superb mystery to solve and a truly fascinating decision based game to play. You’ll weigh your decisions carefully, wonder what the right thing to do is and then make a call and not quite believe how things play out.
And the best thing is, once you’ve completed the game you’ll begin to think the same about your own real life decisions and probably both wish and not wish that you could see how the play out and rewind time.
One of the finest games on the PS4 and well worth the time and effort to play through.
PS the closest game I can compare this to is Until Dawn. Both are excellent but I have to say that I had a lot more fun with Until Dawn. Sure, life is strange is more interesting and intellectual, but Unitl Dawn is just such a blast start to finish that if I could only play or recommend one of the two games, I’d definitely go with Until Dawn over Life is Strange.