Due to the computer woes that pretty much ate up my entire March, I have been catching up on some gaming, namely the twenty-dollar offerings on the PSN. After digesting the literally perfect piece of storytelling that was Gone Home, I dug into DontNod Entertainment's Life is Strange.
Released in five episodes, Life Is Strange follows photography student Max who, during a school shooting, discovers she can rewind time. However, she soon learns that the more she uses her power, the more the world around her changes, and not always for the better.
Life is Strange was just tremendous, and I'm not ashamed to admit that it kind of kicked my ass. With its nice and relaxing menu screen, it lulled me into a false sense of security - this is just a cool slice-of-life indie game about using time travel to solve everyday problems, I thought. While that's somewhat true, it escalated quickly and I wasn't prepared for how emotional and unsettling it became. The Twin Peaks comparisons were apt, as there was some dark and heavy shit in here. Arcadia Bay's filllled with secrets.
The thing about this game that struck me the most was how it evolved as I played it. Characters that began as archetypes grew into fully fleshed out people I cared about and the choices I made episodes earlier begat real consequences. It was the combination of the choice and rewind mechanics that made Life Is Strange such a unique experience for me. Recalling my time playing Telltale's The Walking Dead, there were some really tough decisions to me made here – two in particular caused me much hesitation – even though I knew I could rewind afterwards.
But the mechanics and story weren't the only strong aspects of this game. The music, a mix of instrumental and licensed tracks, was divine, and the main theme is still rattling around in my brain as I type this. I also have to give props to the voice acting, which only got better with each episode as Max (Hannah Telle) and her best friend Chloe (Ashly Burch) found their voices.
|BFF's Max & Chloe.
For $19.99, this is an exceptional value, as there is over twenty hours of gameplay here. The developers strayed from the formula of pushing the player forward to the next checkpoint by rewarding exploration with all sorts of world-building interactions. They even had “sit-down” moments where you could opt to take a breather and just enjoy your surroundings. I needed those sometimes, believe me.
Life Is Strange might be one of the best time travel stories I've ever experienced. Heavily influenced by Ray Bradbury's A Sound of Thunder, it beautifully explored the implications of changing the past, despite even the best intentions.