Life is Strange Review

Richard Walker

Teenage years are tough. Imagine how different those years might have been, had you the ability to rewind time at will, fixing actions you might come to regret and things you may have said out of turn. You could rethink asking out that person who knocked you back or retake your exams, correcting your mistakes. No more embarrassing foot-in-the-mouth situations. Life is Strange takes that notion and weaves its dramatic tale around it, giving you the chance to turn back time and relive your past choices with the power of retained prior knowledge.

Life is Strange casts you in the role of Max Caulfield, a young girl who's only just celebrated her 18th birthday. She's at that awkward transitional age between adolescence and adulthood, her relationships with her friends and peers the most important thing in the world. Naturally, her world is soon turned upside-down, as bizarre occurrences transpire, and Max discovers her ability to manipulate time at a suitably dramatic juncture. Things then quickly begin to escalate.


Aah. Hazy, sun-drenched days. Lovely.

What follows is a tender and involving story that recalls the halcyon days of awkward high school life. Max is something of an outsider having returned to her hometown of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, after five years away in Seattle. Things have changed considerably during that time, and her old best friend Chloe has become something of a tearaway, rebelling against her strict and overbearing stepdad.

Max's sense of alienation makes her incredibly easy to relate to, especially if you've ever found yourself in a similar situation. Her vulnerability is disarming, adding greater impact to each of the decisions you make. Take yourself back to how each decision shaped Clementine's destiny in Telltale's The Walking Dead, and you're pretty much there.

In fact, Life is Strange shares a lot of DNA with Telltale's modern adventure games, albeit with a little more flexibility and freedom to explore. From the game's surreal prologue to waking up in photography class, you'll then find yourself in the female restroom, where a pivotal event sets in motion Life is Strange's narrative. Laden with decisions, Max's story plays with this choice and the eventual consequences that transpire, enabling you to rewind time and make adjustments to what's gone before.

Far from being a way of essentially cheating and changing ill-advised decisions, Max's time rewind powers are neatly designed and create an interesting dynamic. Max remains the one constant in Life is Strange. When rewinding time, she doesn't move and retains any items she's acquired and any knowledge she's gleaned. Therein lies the twist.

This unlocks a range of possibilities, whether it's getting one over on the class bitch or impressing your photography teacher. The stakes get far higher as the drama unfolds, and Max's old buddy Chloe starts to play a more important role, but Dontnod eases you in nice and gently before hitting you with bigger decisions later on.

There's a range of objects and incidental items you can interact with on your way through Life is Strange's story too, making it feel like you're off the leash a little more than you are in a Telltale game. You'll explore the university campus, poke around the dorms and so on, making small decisions that seemingly have little impact along with the more significant ones.

It's only upon examining the breakdown of your choices (which you can compare with your friends list) after the credits have rolled on the episode that you realise each decision, no matter how ostensibly minor, does actually have some sort of bearing on the narrative. I discovered that I'd missed an entire interaction and choice with a peripheral character, and that an action I performed that seemed entirely throwaway, also had its own small part to play.

These smaller choices could easily pass you buy, but it's the major, unavoidable decisions that really stop you in your tracks and make you think. It's surprising how differently these can play out too, and discussions with others about their choices afterwards demonstrated how divergent approaches can event in unexpected outcomes.


"I can't get Redtube on this thing!"

Encounters with certain characters (we won't spoil anything by going into specifics) can be fairly calm and rational or incendiary and confrontational depending on your dialogue choices. Every move matters, and although there's always the chance to rewind, sometimes you'll want to let a conversation run its course and see what happens. Drama is conflict, after all.

Life is Strange's independent movie vibe conjures warm feelings of nostalgia, and spending time inside its painterly, dreamlike world is never anything but pleasurable. It's a game that's nicely paced, encouraging experimentation and exploration, albeit in relatively small environments. Choices and dialogue might be the heart of Life is Strange, but the presentation is what makes it so inviting.

Ultimately, Life is Strange does have the linearity of a Telltale adventure, but it's less restrictive and the time-rewind MacGuffin adds something unique to the formula. With well-drawn characters and everyday life choices made compelling enough to make you genuinely care, Life is Strange's first episode is an engaging beginning for what we hope will be a saga worth sticking with. Perhaps there's not the same kind of gut punch ending as some of Telltale's standout episodes, but it's down to the choices that you've made having a genuine ripple effect throughout Life is Strange's five episodes that will determine whether Dontnod has something special on its hands. We can't wait for episode 2.

Life is Strange

Life is Strange Episode 1: Chrysalis is an engaging and enjoyable first instalment in what promises to be a compelling adventure series. If subsequent episodes can live up to what Dontnod has started, we're in for a treat.

Form widget
80%
Audio
80%

Folk music and strong voice acting add up to make Life is Strange easy on the ears.

Visuals
70%

With hand-painted textures and a warm look, Life is Strange's world is one you'll want to spend time in. It's just not the most spectacular looking game, although its style suits the theme.

Playability
80%

Certainly worth playing twice, Life is Strange is part Quantic Dream game, part Telltale adventure, but wholly its own thing. If that makes sense. In short, it's excellent.

Delivery
80%

A good few hours of game with a nice dose of replay value. The only thing that might stop you going back for seconds is not wanting to mess with your decisions.

Achievements
80%

Not in the least bit imaginative, the achievements nonetheless fit an episodic, narrative-driven game like Life is Strange well. You have to keep your eyes out for photo ops, which encourages a little extra exploration. Not demanding, not particularly exciting, but perfectly apt.

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