Game: Life is Strange
Platform: PS4, Xbox 360, PC
Publisher/Developer: Square Enix/Dontnod
Genre: Interactive drama
Score: 7 out of 10
Synopsis: Max Caulfield has returned to her small town to study photography with a famous artist, only to discover that she can rewind time itself to change outcomes. How she uses her powers will change the world.
Up, Up: I was literally replaying Beyond: Two Souls the day before I got my review code for Life is Strange, so not only was I in the mood for an interactive drama I had probably the best example of the genre to hold up against it fresh in mind. How does this stack up to the big boy?
Pretty damned well, actually. The addition of the rewind time feature that allows you to replay your choices is something every fan of interactive genre has been hoping for for years, though oddly enough it doesn't take away the suspense. You get to see the immediate reaction of both choices, but the long-term ramifications still elude you.
It's an interesting problem-solving mechanic that takes a little getting used to and seems honestly slightly petty in the way you use it at first, but it's clear that as the story progresses we're going to be shown larger, more powerful consequences. The environment itself is often your best ally, and though it can get a little tedious looking at every single object doing so will give you a wider understanding of the world.
This is also the closest I think anyone has ever truly gotten to the idea of an interactive movie. Imagine that Cameron Crowe had directed Donnie Darko, but that you had near-complete control over the action. It's like walking through the representation of a director's vision, and that is a powerful thing.
Down, Down: There are a couple of problems. The first is that the game opens with a spectacular, epic sequence that scares the crap out of you and then drops you off in a really slow burn of normal college action. You go from a mysterious lighthouse and odd temporal vortex to trying to find your way past bullies to get into your dorm.
I also have a question... is Ellen Page the new template for all female protagonists? She actually is in Beyond: Two Souls, but Ellie in The Last of Us was close enough that lawyers got involved. Now we have Max, and she literally could be a Page stand-in. It's not that bad except that having Hannah Telle's Page impression narrate every single object in the game out loud actually does get a little annoying after a while.
The game is slow, too, which is to be expected in the genre but thank God for the skip option involved in your rewind powers. Actually, this may be the first time I've ever seen a game specifically highlight a narrative technique unique to gaming that cannot be reproduced on film. Good show.
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Left, Right, Left, Right: It's the Unreal Engine, but is a nice mixture of the way Beyond: Two Souls handled things and how The Last of Us did ironically. It's a near perfect exploration scheme on the controllers, and again, the skip option is a psyche saver.
B, A: I honestly can't believe Square Enix dropped a Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within Easter Egg in a game that came out 14 years later. I am so super impressed with their sheer gall that I am actually going to go buy a copy to watch again.
This game definitely awards the attentive mind. Before you exhibit any powers you take a photo of a butterfly. It took my much-smarter-than-me wife to point out it was a joke on the Butterfly Effect. The tiny motions at the beginning of the story become the storm. It's a game for the attentive and analytic, and the nerd in me loves that.
Start?: There's a fair few gamers that will say this is not properly a game because there's little skill involved. They maybe right. You aren't going to have any trouble beating Life is Strange. On the other hand it's nice to see Square Enix step on Telltale's toes in episodic storytelling and having the courage to do it with an original story instead of an established franchise. That's pretty damned cool, and I recommend the game on that alone.