There are a lot of reasons to play video games. They’re fun, exciting, surreal and imaginative, and best yet, they can actually be very good. Few games, as good as they are, give you a reason to relate to them through your personal life. Even games which try to bring a realistic perspective often do so through means focused on extraordinary events. Few games, as good as they are, try to extrapolate on life as we know it. They’re focused on a sense beyond life as we know it, which is precisely why we play them — for an experience above our own.
There is an old saying, however, that truth is stranger than fiction. Things that happen to us in our waking life can be even stranger than the stories or dreams we have about it. Few games try to capture that essential fact and instead highlight the grandeur of an extraordinary person or an extraordinary adventure. Strange things might happen in these stories, but stranger things still yet might happen in real life. So why do we need our games to take us to other worlds and show us other things that we can’t see every day?
Life, as we know it, is strange.
What Is It?
Dontnod’s debut episode in the adventure series Life is Strange stars a young woman named Maxine Caulfield. Opening with an apocalyptic and dreamlike scenario, Max is immediately thrust into events beyond her control or even her understanding. But as soon as everything comes apart, she snaps back into her daily life and finds herself in the normality of her everyday experience.
She wonders to herself what just happened. It was a dream, but it was also very real.
Moving from Seattle back to her small town of Arcadia, Oregon, Max finds herself with an ability to reverse time and to bend reality to her will. Though extraordinary in its own way, it is through the mundane choices we make every day that this power manifests.
The setting is calm and serene, yet eerie and discomforting at the same time. The skies of Arcadia are like any small town, with birds chirping and the wind blowing around as Max exists in an area anyone her age might exist in, a school.
Posters alerting students to the school’s halloween dance, informing her classmates about the variety of abstinence-based programs, or social organizations she might join line the walls. Graffiti from angsty teens capture the sentiment of her era, some referencing drugs or the illuminati. Various students from all sorts of social cliques chat in the halls, living out their lives — it’s as normal and as strange as it can be.
But Max is clearly different. The choices she makes can be made and unmade at will. The butterfly effect proves very real for her in her life. And as the player, you can experience these from many angles and see how your choices affect the future and the story in which you now exist. Life is Strange bills itself as a game wherein choices actually matter. Where a choice at one point will in fact affect an event in another. Whether this is true and not a superficial difference is still yet to be seen, but so far it’s quite clear they are setting it up in a way this strange tale may prove that true.
Why Should I Care?
If episodic adventure games are not your cup of tea, this is not going to win you over. There’s no real action and the sentiment in the game might throw some people off. It’s driving people to empathize with Max and sympathize with her fellow students, trying to emulate the experience she might actually have. This may sound boring, but it is actually riveting and unexpected so far.
The storyline has not brought to light what it is going to be all about through the five episode trajectory. There are a few clues as to where it will go, but the first episode really zeroes in on Max and who she is. The game wants to allow you to consider Max yourself, and not force any sort of play-style or character on you in full. You can be a meek and shy; or, you can be a bold and brazen, like the girl on fire. It’s really up to you.
Choices in gaming rarely serve as anything other than a means to an end. In general, it seems like this may be caught in that web but we will see how choices in each episode affect the others. Beyond various people dying off, or becoming absent from the storyline, or falling in love with a character, or whatever else like this we rarely see anything of true consequence. But given the mundane attitude of these choices we still could see this play out differently.
Without giving any of the major ideas of where this may be heading away, it’s easy to say this is shaping up well and is off to a very good start. I found the characters highly compelling and also the setting deeply satisfying and believable. I’m curious what will happen next and will certainly continue playing as they release more episodes.
What Makes it Worth My Time And Money?
Life is Strange is a five dollar title in itself. At least, that’s the price for the first episode. You can buy the whole season for twenty dollars but if you want to test the waters and see if it’s up your alley perhaps you should just try the first episode before pulling the trigger.
Outside of the story, there’s not a lot to do. You can look at all the objects in the environment and try to see the world more fully, but it’s mostly static in the sense you move from set to set and experience the story. You can also take pictures of various happenings which might unlock trophies or count as collectibles, but they’re generally negligible. Some, however, have proved vaguely consequential so perhaps they may yet prove important in the long run.
Clearly, this is a title not made even with the typical episodic gaming fan in mind. Other titles such as The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us were action packed and took us out of this life and into another world all together. Life is Strange, so far, does not attempt to do this. It’s hard to tell exactly who their target market is here, but generally speaking I can say I think this game is actually for everyone.
This was a very positive experience and supremely uplifting. There are not many games where after the credits rolled I felt attached to the characters and really wanted a lot more of it. Though it only clocks in at about two hours, I think this is one that after the whole series releases I might play a few more times so as to experience all of the options, choices, and dialogue.
All in, Life is Strange‘s first episode is a surreal and imaginative adventure, but strangely mundane and virtually lifelike. It goes to show that games don’t need to be blockbusters to be winners, and games don’t need to be otherworldly to be strange or exciting. It is with no reservation that this is a highly recommended first entry into what may become a very good, if even great series.
We are off to a good start, and at its value price point, it is well worth your time and money.
Life is Strange is just a true fact. Life is strange. And not only that, it’s mundane, but it’s also surreal. This game is capturing that sentiment well and it makes us look forward to what’s coming next. So far they’re proving life is indeed strange… but as they say, it’s also beautiful.