Review: Life is (Hella) Strange
The Good
  • Quality voice acting
  • Great cast of characters
  • Engaging narrative
The Bad
  • Interactive items are sometimes cluttered
95%Overall Score

Life is Strange is a fantastic episodic title showing that its creator, Dontnod Studios, the team behind Remember Me, is not a one trick pony.

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Players take the role of Maxine Caulfield, a student at the prestigious Blackwell Academy, a school for 12th grade students wishing to specialize in the arts. Having just moved back from the bustling city of Seattle to the quiet town of Arcadia Falls, she is a bit of an outcast. Pursuing photography, Maxine seems to prefer viewing the world through a lens than actively participating in it. After a startlingly vivid daydream during class, Max learns she has acquired the ability to reverse time at will. After watching a fellow schoolmate brutally murdered in the girls bathroom, she begins using her powers to actively intervene in the world, rather than standing by and watching from the sidelines.

I began Life is Strange with bated breath, hoping this would not be an exaggerated portrayal of what older devs think modern high school life is like. And as I was assaulted with a barrage of cliche’ lines, things were not looking good. But as I exited my first class, hearing a fellow student complaining about how they “fucking hated that class”, I breathed a sigh of relief. Realism. As I freely roamed the halls, taking in my fellow students, the signage posted around school, and even the graffiti plastered throughout the school, this high school felt quite real.

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But just as the dialogue drifts in and out of believability, so does the cast. At one point, Max refers to a group of unfriendly classmates as a group of “Mean Girls”, referring to the cult classic of the same name. Other characters could have been ripped from cinema screens and classic cliches. Walking around campus, players will encounter the pair of jocks throwing around a football in wanton disregard of those around them, the black clothing clad goth child, the overzealous student, and the teachers pet. But in between those cliches, there are bright moments of individuality among characters.

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The main cast of characters, namely your estranged childhood best friend Chloe, really shines in comparison to some of the outlying characters. Dialogue feels real for the most part with my only complaint being the rampant use of the word “hella”. There’s an old adage that states, “show me who your friends are, and I will show you who you are.” I found this rang especially true in Max’s interaction with Chloe, which is something I would love to see more in games, learning about the character you are playing by getting to know their companions, and having that change your perception of them. As you spend more time with the blue haired, tattooed Chloe, you begin to think of Max as a lot less of a nerdy outcast.

In terms of mechanics, Life is Strange plays out almost as a mixture of the hit title Gone Home, and Telltale’s The Walking Dead. Players move around finite spaces that are packed to the brim with clickables. These interactive objects around you set a scene, deliver much needed context and backstory, and teach players about the world around them and it’s inhabitants. This results in a game world that feels lived in, rather than an intricate tableau for players to walk around in. As you (very intrusively) peruse your best friends room or dorm, you get the sense that these characters each have had very complicated lives, both separate from one another, and at other times, intertwined with your own past.

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Your ability to reverse time is very easy to use and intuitive. Your powers are not limited to any situation and can be re-used at will unlike your power of memory hacking in Remember Me, they are not limited to specific scenarios. Players can relive any moment at will, using it to their advantage or to reverse decisions that will echo throughout the rest of the series.

The score behind Life is Strange is mellow and melancholy. The grunge-y sound not only accompanied gameplay nicely but was mixed in well narratively. It served to accent and amplify the narrative. As I played I reminisced about being a teenager being stuck in a boring suburb, listening to very similar music with delinquent friends dreaming of being somewhere far away, just as Max and her friends had.

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The aesthetic style of Life is Strange lends to its charm. The somewhat realistic cartoony style blends well with the sometimes overblown story and characters. The title dances an entertaining line between fiction and reality, never allowing reality to dull your experience. Pacing feels like an aspect of the game carefully tended to by dev’s, knowing just when things were getting too real, and peppering in the fantastic. Small references to things like The Shining, Twin Peaks, and even poking fun at Twilight, all add to the games subtle charm.

Chrysalis is the series’ first episode, and after completing it, I am looking forward to playing more. I want to spend more time in this world that has thoughtfully been crafted, with these people I have come to know in my short time at Blackwell Academy. A supernatural game about high school may not sound like your cup of tea, but I assure you it is much more than that. Life is Strange is a wonderful display of range coming from Dontnod, and pleasure to play.

 

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