Life is Strange by DONTNOD Entertainment (2015)
Episode 1 – Chrysalis (January)
Life is Strange…especially for Max Caulfield when she envisions a terrible storm approaching Arcadia Bay. Though she wakes from her vision as if it was a vivid dream, her first month at Blackwell Academy gets even stranger when she unintentionally reverses time to save her estranged friend Chloe from certain death. In addition to the sudden disappearance of Rachel Amber, the mysteries surrounding Arcadia Bay hang still in the air like the quiet before the storm…
Let’s not get ahead of ourselves though. This is only the first episode, where characters must be introduced and the setting laid out. Episode 1 – Chrysalis focuses on developing Max as the wallflower protagonist who, despite all of her efforts, still lacks confidence in her photography. Pacing is left to the your eagerness to explore the halls of Blackwell Academy. You can either zip from objective to objective, or take your time to learn more about your surroundings. I chose to take the scenic route around campus which I feel it was meant to be played and was rewarded with a surprisingly relaxed experience that I could immerse myself in on my own time.
While Life is Strange plays like an animated movie, you interact with the world by choosing Max’s actions when she is thrown into various scenarios. Similarly to Telltale games, every decision you make has future consequences. So far the only consequences I could observe were small dialogue alterations, but with four whole episodes to go I would not be surprised if they caused a butterfly effect further down the road. The permanence of your decision-making becomes lessened as Max’s power to reverse time allows for some wiggle room for making mistakes. To counter-balance this clairvoyance, the game makes it a point to remind you of the potential negative outcomes of each decision. Acting as your pessimistic backseat driver, you are left to make the best decision while weighing the worst case scenarios.
An exceptional part of Life is Strange is the relaxing atmosphere that permeates throughout the sleepy town. It’s rare to have your character be able to just sit back and recollect their thoughts. One of the reasons I play games is to escape to a different world where I can immerse myself into a fantastical world. When Max sits down and takes a deep breath, I can feel myself do the same.
Since Max is an aspiring photographer, it goes to show that the halls of Blackwood Academy would be teeming with artistic references. From the origin of the selfie to the best post-modern photographers, it is quite obvious there was an art major in the development team. While I cannot vouch for the game’s accuracy, it was surprising to listen to a fully fledged lesson on anything art-related within a video game. The creators continually expressed their passion for cinematography from their choice of shot angles and colors, giving Life is Strange an epic feel to it with the glow of the sunset permeating throughout.
Life is Strange: Chrysalis did an amazing job setting the stage for what I can only expect to be an emotional roller coaster from here on out. The relationship between Max and Chloe was developed quite nicely, though certain interactions of Max’s did feel a bit forced. She is supposed to be a self-proclaimed shy geek, but is somehow able to strike up a conversation with just about everyone in the school; a seemingly unavoidable gameplay mechanic that contradicted her core personality. While I cannot judge the entire series from just chapter one, I cannot wait until March for the second episode to be released, entitled Out of Time.
Life is Strange is also available on both Playstation and Xbox.
A BIRD’S EYE VIEW