Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game in roughly the same vein as Telltale’s recent titles, but made by the Remember Me devs and with a touch of Gone Home about it. From that sentence alone you’ll probably have a good idea as to whether you’re going to enjoy the game or not.
The first episode mostly takes place in a school where the protagonist is taking photography lessons. You speak to friends, take photographs of things, read tonnes of little environmental details and occasionally turn back time. Standard school stuff right? Like in Telltale’s games the real ‘gameplay’ mostly comes from making decisions about what you say and what you do (within very specific choices). Unlike Telltale’s games, there’s no time limit on your responses, you can spend as long as you’d like to make a decision, everyone else will wait patiently for you. In fact the main mechanic of the game is your ability to go back in time a minute or so and change your decisions. Don’t like the way a conversation is going? Go back and pick something else. Find out a piece of information that would have just helped you? Go back and use it. You keep your inventory and any notes when you go back in time so you can completely fulfil your fantasy of being a high-school know it all. This system turn’s Telltale’s greatest asset (time-pressured conversation choices) completely on its head, but it still works. Rather than panicking and regretting your choices later, you’re left to agonise over each and every choice, constantly replaying them until you think you’ve done the right thing. The consequences of your actions don’t come until it’s far too late to go back and change what you did the first time so there’s still plenty of space for regret. The ‘what other players did’ menu is here also, playing after you finish the three-hour episode.
So the mechanic is strong and interesting, but unfortunately not all is well within the game. The most notable flaws are a lack of interactivity and poor script writing. While you can look at a lot of things, you can’t interact with anything unless it’s important to the plot. For a game starring a photographer there’s surprisingly few things you can take photos of, even if you clearly would in real life.It’s frustrating and immersion breaking to see something that would clearly be helpful evidence, only to not be allowed to take a photo of it because that’s not how the plot goes. Repeatedly your character even states that they wish they’d taken a photo. The script writing is a real shame, the overall plot is interesting but the writers have clearly shot for some kind of authentic high school language and completely missed. There’s an overuse of awkward slang, weird phrasing and characters that hate each other waiting patiently to take turns in conversations. It comes across like a badly forced soap opera rather than a real, mature drama. Gone Home got the language of young people much closer to reality than this does and it’s annoying enough to be constantly offputting.
The final real flaw is some bad lip-synching. While not game breaking in any way, the sheer amount of time you’ll spend talking to people makes it an odd choice for the developers to not try to make sure the lip-synching is correct. So many games get this right nowadays, you hardly even notice the work that goes into it, but when it’s this off it’s incredibly noticeable.
So overall Life is Strange is an interesting idea and a welcome addition to the adventure genre, but don’t expect writing or technical quality akin to Telltale’s games or the more interesting indie adventure games of the last few years. We picked up a season pass on Xbox One so we’ll come back and let you know if the later episodes manage to make any improvements on what seems like a solid foundation.