Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Jan 302017

I didn’t know what to expect when I started Life Is Strange.

I’d seen the start of the game, so I knew about Max’s time travel powers and love of photography, and I knew it was a 5-part episodic game, but nothing else.

Some games have slow beginnings. It’s one of the common criticisms I’ve seen against my favorite time travel game, Steins;Gate, although it didn’t bother me there.

Here, however, I finished Episode 1 of Life Is Strange thinking that I’m happy to be out of high school and away from stuff like this, so why would I return to it for entertainment?

But thanks to a friend, I had the full game, so I kept playing. I’m glad I did. After that slow first episode, things really pick up. High school drama is only one small part of a story that involves a dark, twisted mystery and hints of an impending apocalyptic disaster.

Gameplay-wise, it’s similar to a Telltale game. You mainly interact with other characters and make choices. Max also has the ability to rewind time, so that plays an important role. There’s a tiny amount of puzzle-solving, especially as you figure out how to use her powers to proceed, but Life Is Strange primarily focuses on its narrative.

And that is where it excels. For a while, I had trouble liking Chloe, Max’s best friend, but she grew on me as I got further in the story. And despite some wacky dialogue at times, the characters are pretty realistic. They’re also multifaceted, and characters who appear cliche when you first meet them may surprise you with later development.

Click for Life Is Strange spoiler
For example, David. At the start of the game, he seems like a general jerk, possibly dangerous, and a likely suspect for at least some of the terrible things going on. But while he is paranoid and extreme, later episodes take steps to show that he’s trying to do the right thing and knows he messes up a lot.

Even Nathan gets more depth than it originally looked like he’d have. He’s partly a victim himself, first from his father not getting him the psychological help he needs, and then from Jefferson manipulating him.

It’s difficult to discuss Life Is Strange’s story without getting into spoilers, but it’s dark and intense. This is not a happy game. It’s not the sort of game you should turn to if you want something to lift your spirits.

(Seriously, when the official website has a dedicated page for suicide prevention resources, you know it’s not a lighthearted game.)

There were times when I needed a break from all the darkness and unhappiness the game threw at me… but at the same time, I couldn’t stop thinking about the characters and wondering how everything would turn out. It’s intense and gripping, and once the story gets going, it’s hard to turn away.

Now, I do wish Life Is Strange went into a bit more details about how Max’s powers work and how they affect the world around her. I didn’t expect it to go all-out Steins;Gate with scientific lectures, but a little bit more time spent on that would have been nice.

Click for Life Is Strange spoiler
Max demonstrates four distinct types of time travel:

  • Rewinding time, where she stays in her current physical location but everything else is restored to its past state. She can use this at will.
  • Traveling back to the past via a photograph, where she returns to her past location and body as well.
  • Stopping time, which she uses exactly once. It never comes up again.
  • Rewinding time and returning to her past location without a photograph, which she uses once, the first time she ever uses her power.

I wish these were explained and expanded on a little more.

As for the effects on the world, the storm, dead birds, beached whales, etc. can be explained… but the eclipse? Two moons in the sky, after which the second moon just disappeared? How did Max’s powers mess up space?

Of course, it might just be magic.

I was fully invested in Life Is Strange by the time I reached the ending, and I cried. This is not a happy game. The more I thought about it, the unhappier it seemed, and I’m not wholly satisfied with the ending. Nevertheless, it was a thrilling ride to get there, and I’m happy I finally played Life Is Strange.

(But for the record, I still like Undertale better.)

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