Life is Strange Episode One: The Review

Remember Me, the debut title from DONTNOD Entertainment was a commercial risk.

A fresh IP from Capcom, featuring a female lead, that took the traditional conventions of the third person action adventure to task, fitting in a rewind mechanic to progress story, while depicting a deeply layered, fictional world and offering no multiplayer.  It was always going to be a big ask of Remember Me to crack the mainstream market, and suffice it to say, it was a risk which didn’t pay off.

So it’s genuinely surprising, a little bit amazing and massively impressive to discover that the next game from the studio is actually a bigger risk than the first.

As you’ve likely already seen or heard, Life Is Strange follows the very familiar Telltale Games template, but somehow manages to do it better. Where Telltale Games traditionally sees the player move from one scene to the next, making their dialogue choice and being part of an impactful decision that will change the ongoing development of the story, DONTNOD have made the player feel more of a participant than a viewer.

In Life is Strange, you play Max, an aspiring photographer who has returned to Arcadia Bay after five years away and joined Blackwell Academy to be tutored by her idol. At first, everything seems focused on school-life and the progression and development of young adults as they prepare themselves for the big-wide world, but it’s not until Max witnesses a young man shoot and kill a young woman in the academy bathroom that the story really starts to take shape.

Like Blinx the Cat and Niln before her, Max discovers that, somehow, she has the ability to rewind time and can still remember everything set to happen. The anxiety from the shooting is so much that Max suddenly finds herself back in the classroom she just left, listening to the same lecture. It instantly occurs to her that she may be able to stop this shooting from ever happening, but she has to retrace her steps.

This is one way the game really shifts gears compared to anything Telltale have put out so far. Where decisions are final in the likes of The Walking Dead or Game of Thrones, in Life is Strange, players are able to learn from what happens, rewind, prepare, then choose an alternative path. We just get a taste of that flexibility in this episode, for example, touching certain items will cause them to break and can cause rifts in your relationships, but I imagine that DONTNOD have bigger plans than that for future instalments.

Of course, all decisions have consequences in Life Is Strange. At one point in the game, you can choose to acknowledge a deeply personal item in one of your friend’s dorm rooms. If you do pick it up, your relationship with that person ends on the spot. If, however, you rewind time and bring it up with your friend casually, you can actually talk it out with her. All of this, of course, is entirely optional, and that’s another aspect of game development that Life is Strange does well when compared to Telltale.

DONTNOD have provided players a semi-open world within the confines of their story. Max can walk through school, look at other students, examine noticeboards and interact with other characters, getting involved in various optional scenarios. Life Is Strange has its critical plot-points which you are caught up within and cannot avoid, but you can actually get a lot more out of this world by taking the time to explore, discovering more back-story and influencing other people’s lives as you go. Who knows how they’ll repay you in future episodes?

Considering the main themes empowering Life is Strange relate to art and imagery, it’s little surprise that the game is a stunner to look at. DONTNOD have captured the mundane extraordinarily well, but equally given life and substance to the supernatural qualities that are peppered throughout. Whether you’re contending against a horrifying storm, gazing at a glorious sunset or admiring a kitchen, Max’s journey will leave a lasting impression. Although I did find it odd that the faces of the character models seem to be out of synch with the voice-acting. At times, it felt like a badly translated Japanese Samurai movie but in English.

Another issue I had with the game is the poor dialogue. Some of the exchanges are ham-fisted and clunky, not helped by some of the voice actor delivery. One line in particular made me groan, and was a lazy dig at Telltale. The actor simply says, ‘I will remember this conversation’. I was then told straight after that my actions would have consequences.

You don’t say…

I’m also a little worried about the story and how it will progress over the next four episodes. I’m concerned that we’re gradually going to lose the grounded element of every-day living and go into full-blown, weird supernatural stupidity. If you want an example of that done wrong, you should check out David Cage’s Fahrenheit: Indigo Prophecy which just got a re-release on Steam last week.

Square have even managed to get some crafty references to their own IP in here. I’ll admit, the first time it made me laugh, the second time, however, felt forced.

All in all, there’s the foundations for an interesting story here and the soundtrack feels genuinely appropriate and creates a really thoughtful atmosphere for the player.

DONTNOD have crafted a mature, thought-provoking, engaging title that shows off their talents just as much as it exposes their weaknesses. Life Is Strange comes from a place full of positive influences and shows great promise for the future of the series, though for a game that will live or die based on its story, there are issues that need to be addressed ahead of the launch of Episode Two.

A mostly good start, then, and well worth exploring for a bargain £3.99 on your platform of choice, but the pressure is on to deliver a solid and stable Episode to ensure this series is one people stick with. 


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