To be honest, any episodic game in a post Walking Dead world is going to be compared, especially when said game is all about story and examining every item in the environment. That’s not to say Life is Strange doesn’t bring its own ideas to the table.
Its main twist is the use of time travel. Playing as Max, a socially awkward photography nerd, after witnessing someone getting shot in the toilets of Blackwell Academy (where she’s studying) she discovers she has the ability to turn back time. Rewinding time causes everything to move backwards around Max as she stands still. Only the game is very loose with its rules of time travel. For the majority of the game Max stands still as has already been said, yet the first time she discovers her power she’s also moved back in time to the classroom. To be honest though, surely that’s how it should work. I mean, if everyone is moving back in time with the exception of Max then wouldn’t it break certain moments, like interacting with people? Whatever, my brain is now hurting, time travel is a hard thing to get right whether it’s in a movie or game.
In its defence though, the puzzles rely on the game being fast and loose with the time travel laws. One early encounter has you attempting to move the school bully from the dorm steps, to do so requires some use of time rewinding and altering the environment slightly to reach your goal. While situations like this are required to progress the story, others are almost like side quests, such as warning a girl before she gets hit by a football.
The time mechanic is also used to alter choices you might make along the way. Not happy with the outcome of a decision? Then simply rewind and choose the other option. While this may seem like it’s easy to choose the “good” option, pretty much all the dialogue choices aren’t simply black and white. A lot of them, whatever choice you make feels like it has just as much a negative reaction as the other. Time will tell if these choices affect the story in any meaningful way.
There’s actually a surprisingly lot of stuff to find and interact with in the world, some of which just produce little throwaway pieces of dialogue, others feel like you’re actually getting to know the characters a bit more. This is more apparent with the many photos you’ll find, photography being a key pillar in the game world.
What is really striking about Life is Strange right from the beginning is the art style. Graphically, the first two areas aren’t anything special, but then you reach the games climax (it is only a few hours long), jaws will drop. What’s most impressive is the almost, indie movie like aesthetic. Right from the opening, after leaving the classroom Alex pops in some headphones, the noise from the corridor drowns out and music just envelops the scene as the opening credits begin. Then when you’re looking at various objects in the world all options appear like they’re drawn on with pencil. Even with graphics that might not wow, Life is Strange goes to show that with a good art style you can make it stand out from the crowd.
The acting and dialogue fares a little worse. Performances aren’t bad, but are pretty mediocre and the dialogue teen speak jumps between good and excruciating. While the interaction between Max and her former best friend is mostly decent (awkward David Cage dance scene aside), the occasional lines of “epic win” and the like creep in. It at times feels like adults writing for teens whose only research was watching Juno.
If you treat this is like a pilot for a new TV series, then Life is Strange can be considered a success. While the vast majority of episode 1 plays out like an extended tutorial, it does end with a great cliffhanger that ensures my return for the second episode.