Throughout the years, I have played hundreds of video games. Out of those, there’s so many that I have no doubt enjoyed quite a lot. Yet in my eyes it’s much more difficult for a game to make the jump from being good to being amazing. Achieving this takes much more than a game simply being fun in my eyes; it has to really stick in the memory, leaving me thinking about it for many an hour after it’s been turned off, and perhaps going on to subtly bleed into my life or thoughts months after I’ve stopped playing. It’s those sort of games that become lifetime favourites to me, and Life is Strange accomplishes doing these things in so many ways it’s stunning.
Life is Strange, in short, is an episodic game about Max Caulfield, a high schooler who tries to decipher the dark secrets of the sleepy little town she lives in alongside her friend Chloe Price. So far, so cliché, you might say, but things get much more complicated when you take into account Max can rewind time. From there, everything is flipped onto its axis; each turning back of the clock can potentially affect the characters and everything around you in drastic ways. And these are complex, well written characters – there is many an occasion where you are forced to re-evaluate your opinions on someone as the game moves on, and there’s never a situation where you can get a clear read on anyone straight from the outset. Everyone has multiples elements and flaws to their personality – even the main character, Max. Your early impressions of her can easily be fairly negative; she’s timid, self-pitying, and slightly selfish. But this only makes her and everyone else feel more real, making you care for them even more, and really making it so you hope that you make the right choices for them.
And it’s in these choices where the game shines so brilliantly yet again. Life is Strange does not shy away from tackling some deep and serious issues throughout its story, and at many points you are left with big choices that are actually highly morally ambiguous. There’s no clear right or wrong answers here, and while the ability to rewind time and change your mind might seem welcome, it doesn’t make things any easier. It’s a testament to developers Dontnod Entertainment that when looking at the percentage breakdown of what every player chose at the end of each episode, so many big choices are split fairly evenly down the middle. Your choices therefore stick in your mind for a good time after you’re made them and even turned the game off – what could you have done differently? It’s disappointing the final episode comes down to a binary choice of ending, but the journey there is impressive in the way it feels remarkably personal.
The thing is, however, that as much as I may be making the game sound like a masterpiece, that’s actually really dramatically far from the case. Life is Strange has many an issue that can’t be ignored; dialogue can sometimes be incredibly clunky and off-putting, trying to capture teen slang and often missing by a wide margin. Lip synching is also extremely poor, often not even getting anywhere near matching what characters are actually saying. One pivotal scene saw lip-syncing actually fail on me completely, removing the drama of what was going on a large amount. The list of issues doesn’t even stop there; the actual gameplay, for instance, is often lacklustre, and perhaps even dull. There are points where you’re forced to do menial work collecting pointless objects, and while there are some clever time travel puzzles in there, there’s many more that descend the game into menial trial and error.
The list of criticisms could go on; the tone and pacing of the game wobbles weirdly at points, characters can look a big flat and emotionless, and so on. Yet for every negative there is another positive; the game’s Cinematography is second to none, for instance, and the use of music to add depth and gravitas to certain scenes is another point worthy of note. Overall, however, I feel it’s important with Life is Strange to not look at things as a list of positives and negatives, and instead to see it as something more than a sum of its parts; as an overall experience, it’s a triumph, successfully playing with your thoughts and emotions in a way that just makes you want to see more.
Life is Strange, therefore, in inarguably fundamentally flawed in many an area; but a game doesn’t have to be faultless to potentially become amazing. I can’t help but feel it’s a title that is going to stick in my memory for a long while to come, and perhaps that’s all the praise it really needs.