Review Life is Strange: Episode 1 – First Impressions

Written by Twisted Ideas

Life Is Strange™_20150204081229Life is Strange is a new episodic adventure game by Square-Enix. It has been earning attention with its strange trailers, female protagonist and its episodic nature that only Telltale Games has been attempting recently. Does Dontnod Entertainment have what it takes to pull of a game like this?

Life is Strange

Developer: Dontnod Entertainment

Publisher: Square-Enix

Platforms: PC, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One

What is it?

Max is a photography student at Blackwell Academy. After a nightmare during class and needing some space, Max witnesses a scene between two students resulting on one being shot. Frighted, Max wakes up back in class right before the event. Scared but curious and determined Max discovers that she went back in time and changed the future.

Life Is Strange™_20150203225409She had just watched Twister the other night.

This is an adventure game about making decisions. Using Max’s power, you can rewind time and have multiple chances to make different decisions or take advantage of missed opportunities. You can change the immediate outcome of events but you will eventually have to live with a single decision without the knowledge of any long-term consequences. This ability is also used for problem solving and to obtain and use information Max wouldn’t have otherwise.

How does it look?

Life Is Strange™_20150204220736Yes, yes it would Max.

The game goes for a stylized look rather than a realistic approach. The game uses a painted look for the character and environmental textures. It give everything a soft look that’s pleasant to look which makes it easier to overlook the lower polygon count. The painted look is also used to reduce the amount of detail in the background. Pictures and posters on the wall are drawn with the most basic outlines of shape for people and the objects. It looks strange but isn’t too bothersome.

There is use of cartoon lines to highlight intractable elements of the game and even in the game’s font. There’s also a lot of detail in Max’s journal. There are scribbles, drawings, stains and cutouts throughout. It gives the game a more artistic feel, matching the visual theme of the game and the fact that Max is a student of arts and is very creative in expressing herself.

How does it sound?

The soundtrack is full of soft underplayed music and picks up in intensity when the story does. There is a theme song that is played that’s very good. It’s a quite theme with an acoustic guitar fitting for a country town and a quite life.

Max’s voice actor is a little odd. She’s timid and it shows a lot in her speech. There’s not a lot of energy in it but she does have a lot to say, to herself at least. There are several characters in the game and some of the student’s voices fall into stereotypes: jock, nerd, burnout, etc. Some of the dialogue makes the characters sound more annoying than they probably should be, mainly Max.

There was an obvious Square-Enix easter egg that I can’t bring myself to post here. I had to roll my eyes at it because it’s something so forgettable it’s not even worth bringing up, ever.

What do I think?

Life is Strange: Episode 1 doesn’t start with its best foot forward. A majority of the episode is introduction, Max learning about her powers and meeting every one in the school. The idea seems to be Max’s wanting to change decisions she made or didn’t make but we don’t get to see anything beyond the immediate consequences of her actions. You can see the chain of events starting but little idea where anything is going. The episode ends on with her premonition from the start of the game and the trailer for episode 2 is actually a better hook than most everything in episode 1. It’s not a bad episode but empty for what it’s leading up to.

Life Is Strange™_20150204221820My art book doesn’t even look anywhere near this good.

Max is an awkward teenage girl. She an arts geek, hanging on to an old Polaroid camera. She is really nosy. Your allowed to search her friends rooms, snooping in their dressers, computers, etc and they mostly are quiet about it. She’s treated like a loner but she’s familiar with a lot people already who are eager to berate her, mainly to bring up the rewind mechanic. However, Max grows on you, like the geeky girl whose weird but interesting at the same time. What’s best about her is that she keeps a diary about what’s going on in the game and the people around her. While I don’t know how she writes down some of this stuff so fast, it’s really good insight on what she’s thinking. Even better is that there are several entries at the start of the game about her past, filling in her backstory. It’s a nice touch and shows off Max’s artistic side too.

Max’s awkwardness shows in her internal dialogue. It over shadows her timidness and delivery in her speech. I don’t know if it’s intentional, to characterize Max but the dialogue feels forced or coming from someone who’s very bored. Her internal dialogue occupies most of the game too. I didn’t mind it when you were intentionally examining things or when she was explaining the rewind mechanics but it’s still a but much. There are moments where she just rattles off just for the sake of having her thoughts on even the mundane. The developers could have cut down on some of this if they left scenes in silence or showed her thoughts through her body language.

Her awkwardness really shows in her internal dialogue. She has a lot to say about even the mundane things around her. I don’t know if it’s intentional; If it’s a way to characterize Max but it comes off as overwritten or fake dialogue or just a person whose really bored. The first scene of the game has her rattle on about her confusion when a short sentence or two would suffice. Her internal dialogue occupies most of the game, a lot of

Life Is Strange™_20150204213658Max awkwardly takes pictures of people’s pain and suffering too.

The game reminds me about of The Butterfly Effect, even showing a butterfly prominently at the beginning of the game. Not much has happened yet so it’s hard to say if all her changes will lead to tragedy but hopefully it goes well. The game is foreshadowing a potential finally that might just blindside all these story threads but I hope it doesn’t.

There’s going to be obvious comparisons to Telltale’s adventure game series and Life is Strange. They’re similar games that claims that your choices matter. Telltale has a different approach to their stories. Their most recent adventure games put time limits on your decision. You have to make snap decisions often times with no right answer. Life is Strange lets you take things back. It’s something that people can relate to. Sometimes you just want to take the last few seconds back to fix your mistakes. Whether or not Life is Strange will do something great with the premise is real question.

What I can say what Life is Strange does better than Telltale is the controls, the graphics and making sure the game isn’t so buggy. Life is Strange has third person controls, a free camera and has a visual aesthetic that goes beyond stylized cel shaded graphics. For all the great stories Telltale tells, their games feel worse to play. I know people who struggle with the controls, they’ve had problems with crashing and save file corruption and none of this seems to be getting better. Also their game are starting to have a predictable flow. If something bad happens, it was probably going to happen regardless. It makes it easier to make hard decisions because in the end it doesn’t matter.

Should you get it?

Life is Strange hasn’t shown enough to make me confident to sell the series but it has its charms. Max is a dork and says strange things to herself but she’s nuanced and brings out potentially interesting stories out of the people around her. The game has a great stylized design making up for fairly lack luster graphics. It will take at least an episode before the game gets going but here’s hoping it does.

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