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  • Jonny Travis

Life is Strange

System: PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360, Xbox One | Released: 2015

Developer: Don't Nod Entertainment | Reviewed On: PC

Life is Strange poses as an episodic graphic novella of sorts, in which Max Caulfield returns to her childhood town to attend Blackwell Academy - a prestigious photography college - to begin her career as a photographer. Things immediately take an unexpected turn in a supernatural direction when Max discovers she can manipulate time, leading to all types of destruction being left in her temporal wake, all whilst the game hosts a parrying plot that is all too believable in this day and age.

Using this as a backstop, it's not hard to conceive that the story makes for a huge mess of possible plot holes and mistakes in the writing, but I can tell you that in my opinion, Life is Strange doesn't pander to any of those possibilities, and is incredibly mature about the topics it exudes. Aside from the goliath responsibility of successfully tackling what is essentially time travel as a subject, the game also touches on many relevant adolescent themes and is entirely welcome in this regard, providing its audience with a multitude of layers to relate with - and, in turn, it breeds a genuine attachment to the characters.

I will always struggle to analyze gameplay/mechanics, in this kind of game and it's because more often than not, the developers do the thing they should always do within this genre, and that is: make it simple enough to not steal the spotlight from the reason the game exists - the story. I will say that the mechanics are wholly appropriate, and are fluid enough to allow you to go about your business exploring and traversing the story at the aptest of paces. I also experienced zero bugs...winner!

The gameplay is built around the premise of being able to rewind time and having this as the main feature allows you to undo choices you've made that you are second-guessing, something I did on numerous occasions. This gives you some level of control over the choice-dictated story route. What I noticed, as well, was that the system presents a prompt in certain parts that tell you that should maybe reconsider your decisions - I found this a little disappointing. I'd rather not know that my line of action is impacting the outcome in a negative way as I feel it defeats the object of having a choice in the first place and sort of implies that the game is trying to stay linear. The ability also means you can't really get action gates wrong as you can rewind as many times as you like in order to get it right and progress, but all this does is allow the story to continue whilst staying relevant to how it would be if you actually had this power.

The high definitions visuals are clear cut and strikingly satisfying with autumnal hues, fitting with the overarching wistful theme. Quite simply, it's a beautiful game that exhibits some amazing artwork, in incredible detail, and also bears similarities to that of the oil painting trade. The way Don't Nod and their artists have presented their environments and avatars alike, is vibrant with a good amount of clarity despite using mainly pastel colors. And I think that's partly to do with the skill they've been able to push into lighting techniques within the engine. Now, I know what you're thinking; why is Troy harping on about lighting again. It's something I feel strongly about and most developers know this; it's integral to the level of immersion experienced in a game and can make or break a title's success in this area, in the face of being a subtle facet of the environment.

Luckily for Life is Strange, their creators got this right and have also implemented cinematic camera angles to suit. I didn't feel as if I was playing a game due to this, but more like I was watching the episodes as per design intent. They nailed it.

The soundtrack is a mixed bag of feel-good acoustic tracks and transcendent film music that pairs with the story beautifully. They have gauged the timbre of music so well and have woven it seamlessly into the arc of the script, inducing an almost anxious undercurrent, intermittently subdued with bouts of calming melancholy. It reminds me of a supernatural version of 'The OC' in many ways. Remember that? (good show, don't judge me).

A game premise that is presented as a cinematic and dramatic experience, as this game was surely planned to be, manifests many critical areas for the developers to get right. One of which is the acting, or voice acting, of the characters in the story. What Don't Nod Entertainment has succeeded in doing is casting a range of very competent actors that sit comfortably in this genre and who are able to project natural/organic personas onto the avatars seen in the game. In short, the acting is incredible and the tone of each character is crafted in such a way that emblazons the story with so many realistic facets. I absolutely loved every second of hearing these actors bring the avatars to life.

As a finished article, I only had one issue with the game. I felt that the first two episodes are a little lacklustre in the sense that not enough happens after the initial shock factor at the beginnning to keep the story tense, and I suppose this is only felt if playing the episodes one by one and not as a full piece. Having said this, episode one and two do keep you engaged and I found myself conjuring many a theory in my head as to the coming plot line, and upon completion its obvious that they achieved a very grand, climactic result in the finale - regardless of which ending you end up getting (I saw both).

From the ground up, Don't Nod has created a piece of cracking drama that wouldn't be out of place as a Netflix Original. Its episodic style and emotional storytelling highlight just how good the writers were at executing the premise, making that the focal point of the game. It's also its selling point. Riding on the back of this alone has allowed the game to rise to significant notoriety in the gaming community and I'm in total agreement with it.


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