AN evocative new episodic adventure challenges Telltale’s dominance
Life Is Strange - Episode 1
Platform: Xbox One (reviewed) / Playstation 4 / Xbox 360 / Playstation 3 / PC
THE episodic adventure game has long been the preserve of Telltale Games, the makers of the Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us Series. Married to the right license, it is a formula that works well and the company has rightly enjoyed critical and commercial acclaim with its various strands. Life Is Strange, however, demonstrates how the template can be innovated with thoughtfully and is able to support its own compelling original stories.
Centred around the character of Max Caulfield, a teenage photography student, the inaugural episode of the five part series takes place in a Dawsons Creek-esque setting in an anonymous Oregon town. Gradually, this veers into more of a Donnie Darko style offering, with a supernatural infused hyperreality introducing a crime as well as the game’s trademark mechanic: the ability to rewind time to change how you influence events and individuals.
The time altering mechanic gives the player greater agency over choices
Like Telltale, the developers behind Life Is Strange - French firm Dontnod - place great significance on actions and consequences and although the first episode alone does not allow us to judge how well this works in practice, there is no doubt that the time shifting mechanism gives the player added agency over proceedings. If you are unsure about a decision you made or a line of dialogue you uttered, it is easy to undo - but what will be the repercussions?
As with the best examples of the genre, a strong protagonist and a rich narrative are required to complement what is, let’s face it, relatively simplistic gameplay. Thankfully, Life Is Strange has both in abundance. There are undergraduate stereotypes granted, but Dontnod do a fine job of building up the world while hinting at future mysteries to come. The only downside is the appearance of occasionally clunky dialogue, presumably a casualty of the French to English translation process.
It feels like an independent film in places rather than a game
What we enjoyed most about the title was its strong sense of tone. The gentle pace, pastel art style and soundtrack call to mind the aesthetics of an independent film rather than a game. Even after the one episode, Life Is Strange succeeds in sucking you into its world and discovering its secrets. This is a promising beginning and it feels like the best is yet to come.
TIPS AND TRICKS:
The ability to rewind time is central to the game. It is worth experimenting with it in the first episode to see how it allows you to change decisions
If you missed out on any of the collectible photographs, you can revisit sections of the game in collectible mode to pick them up
It is always instructive to see what choices other players made. Similar to Telltale’s games, the end of the episode allows you to see a breakdown of decisions among the community