Tuesday, September 5, 2017

Life is Strange review

    I love Life is Strange. It is a game which I will rank as one of my all-time favorite video games while simultaneously saying it's ending is about as bad as Mass Effect 3's. This is one of those beautiful Top Gun-esque jets which took to the air, did some amazing stunts, and then crashed at the very end. Nevertheless, it is a video game which has the potential to change interactive storytelling as a whole and elevate the medium. You know, if they can understand how to end the story right.

    The premise is Max Caulfield is a seventeen-year-old photography student who has recently returned to her hometown after five years of absence. Max is immensely talented but shy and withdrawn, having only a couple of friends at the exclusive Blackwell Academy. Even so, she's not a complete outsider and I liked seeing her reactions with other characters. She's a bit of a hipster, working with a old-style instant camera as well as expressing fondness for movies from before she was born, but not in an unlikable way.

Max is one of my favorite character.
    The plot, with giving a minimum amount of spoilers, is Max (voiced by Hannah Telle) discovers she has the ability to reverse time after preventing a school shooting in the bathroom. Discovering the victim is her childhood friend Chloe (voiced by Ashley Burch), Max shares the secrets of her abilities and promises to help Chloe discover what happened to missing student Rachel Amber. Rachel Amber went missing the month before Max's arrival and whose absence serves as the primary motivator for the majority of the story. Max also has had a vision of a terrible storm which is going to hit the town this coming Friday.

    The plot is a mixture of Twin Peaks, Veronica Mars, Donnie Darko, and The Butterfly Effect for a random but surprisingly workable combination of influences. Max and Chloe are amazingly effective protagonists, well-written to the point of being some of the best in video game history. I've known plenty of both types of girl growing up and they're idealized enough to bring up the best memories of my awkward high school years rather than the worst memories. The fact Chloe is a rebellious punk with a bad attitude contrasts nicely with Max even as I never doubted her friendship or pain.

Chloe and Max are adorable together.
    The supporting cast for this game is probably the most interesting I've seen in an adventure game since the original episodes of The Walking Dead by Telltale. Kate Marsh the good Christian girl suffering from horrific bullying, Victoria Chase the Alpha Bitch with a few redeeming qualities, Warren who could Max's best friend or boyfriend depending on choices she makes, and Nathan the deeply troubled youth who might well be the Big Bad of the story.

    The town is vividly realized so I developed a strong attachment to it. I got to know the local diner, how the economy worked, appreciated its landmarks, and felt like the developers had created a "real" place which our characters inhabited. There's a few minor spots like the fact the school bus works like an actual bus but that was a minor issue. A lot of care and attention went into making sure the setting came alive with hundreds of little details to flesh out characters and their relationships. This is one of the games where it really pays to check out everything, even though sometimes characters will call you out for rifling through their stuff.

The music in the game is incredible.
    The game's central mechanic is Max's ability to rewind time, which is an ability she possesses for much of the game and grows stronger as she practices with it. It works well as a sor of in-universe save scumming. Max can make a statement, check out the results, and reverse time so she can choose better responses. The ability is inconsistently applied in a few places and the rules seem to change a few times but, overall, I enjoyed learning how to use the power alongside Max.

    Which brings me to the ending? Basically, the ending feels like it went for cheap drama at the expense of the greater game's themes. It not only eliminated any chance for future installments with the characters but also seems to take a Spec Ops: The Line-like stance of saying, "the worst thing you could do with this game is actually play it." As such, it's four episodes of content which is almost perfect but one episode which just makes me feel angry. A fair warning to those who want to play the game, you will consider the ending non-canon if you want to enjoy the greater world.

The world is made in a thousand little details.
    The music in this game deserves credit because this is one of the best soundtracks of any game I've listened to. The music has an easy listening indie feel which reflects Max's attitude toward the world as well as fundamental good nature. I've listened to almost all of the songs multiple times. 

    In conclusion, Life is Strange is a great game. It's a game which doesn't focus on gunplay or special effects to achieve its emotional impact. The characterization and writing is why this game is good. It's a very rare game which can say that and yet it is all the stronger for it. The art style is beautiful, going for a slightly stylized look rather than strict realism that means it will probably age far better than other video games. I love Max and Chloe as well as the rest of the cast. It makes me sad this will the last time I play with them (until Life is Strange: Before the Storm at least).


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