The title of Dontnod and Square Enix’s new episodic adventure game series, Life is Strange, sounds like it could be the latest MTV show aimed at early teens. Luckily, the first episode, Chrysalis offers a bit more substance than that, along with a time-rewinding mechanic, rare in narrative-driven adventure games like this. Though there are plenty of similarities to Telltale’s recent episodic adventure games, Life is Strange is significantly different enough to not be considered a direct knockoff, or obvious attempt to cash in on Telltale’s success. Actually, the crossover audience between this game and Telltale’s will probably be smaller than you’d think.
Life is Strange tells the story of high school senior and photography student Maxine Caulfield. After five years in Seattle she and her family have moved back to their hometown of Arcadia Bay, Oregon so Max can attend an exclusive prep school. Max loves taking pictures with her Polaroid, and Blackwell Academy has a unique photography program. This where the game kicks off. The game is set in high school, and one of Life is Strange’s biggest obstacles is trying to authentically walk the line of maturity. I occasionally found some of the dialogue a little childish, but much of the subject matter is decidedly adult.
Unlike in most of Telltale’s adventure games, there is a lot of extracurricular stuff to do in Life is Strange. While I spent a lot of time digging around, reading the entirety of Max’s journal and the various posters around the school, apparently there were still things that I missed. Like the Telltale games, Chrysalis shows how your big decisions compare with other players’, but the next screen lists about 20 other small actions that you may or may not have done throughout the episode. Who knows, I could have written something in the dust on an RV’s window.
There is very little action in Life is Strange, so much so, that when I had to quickly find a hiding place in Max’s friend Chloe’s room, I almost suffered a panic attack. At least in this first episode, there were no quick time events or anything else that would require quick reflexes. While most of the adventure is talking and reading, there actually is a fair amount to explore. Where the Telltale games typically limit exploration to a single small area, in Chrysalis I could walk the whole main hall of Blackwell Academy and explore the girls’ dormitory. There certainly are limitations, but I was impressed at how much content Dontnod has packed into their game.
Life is Strange’s headline feature is the ability to rewind time. Considering the subject matter of the game, you might think that undoing your actions really isn’t that big of a deal, particularly in a graphic adventure game. Besides enabling you to act without consequence, Life is Strange has actually integrated time manipulation into its puzzles. Once you know what the consequence of an action is, you can rewind time and account for that consequence before performing that action or try a completely different tactic.
For the most part, the first episode of Life is Strange feels a lot like an indie movie about a hipster kid in a prep school. That wouldn’t be such a bad thing, except for the unevenness of some of the dialogue. As a matter of fact, video games in general could use a dose of personality. As the episode’s title implies, this is just the beginning of the story. Chrysalis does a pretty good job of setting the stage and introducing players to an interesting, if not an entirely original set of characters. While a personal story like this could meander, Episode One teases just enough of what’s to come to make you want to see what comes next. As a matter of fact, once my schedule opens up, I’m going to play through this episode again.
Life is Strange: Episode 1: Chrysalis is rated M (Mature) by the ESRB for Violence, Blood, Sexual Themes, Strong Language, and Use of Drugs. This game can also be found on: PlayStation 3, Xbox 360, Xbox One, and Windows PC
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