This review is spoiler-free!
I first got excited about Life is Strange from Remember Me developers DONTNOD Entertainment when I heard that the main character was a girl. I was really excited, because as most of you know already, most games have protagonists who are men. So, pretty much on principal, I felt like I had to at least give the first episode a try, because if I want to see further representation in games, I need to support that with my money!
The game is an episodic five part choose-your-own adventure game with a twist. The main character, Max, figures out that she can rewind time. There’s a lot I like about the game. I love that everyone at her school looks like real people. There’s all shapes, sizes, and colors. It helped me sink into the game.
I also really like the menu. It’s her journal! I love all of the art and the writing in it. Because the game will be released in five parts over a span of months, it’s going to be a great way for me to brush up on all of the different choices I’ve made throughout the game.
There’s also a texting mechanic. While the player doesn’t actually get to write texts, you get to see them written, which I really like. It’s set in the modern day, so I think the texting screen really adds a nice touch. There’s one point where Max gets a text from the main popular girl, and it’s so perfect that I laughed out loud – really!
Onto story and characters!
I’m very impressed by the writing and character development for everyone in the game. Everyone who I met throughout the game was fully developed; none of them seem like stereotypes. Even the resident popular girl and seemingly “head bitch” Victoria seems to have some layers. Sure, she’s predictably mean, but there’s a moment where you can be nice to her and she’s nice back to you.
I think the game designers made a great choice to make Max a little shy and a little nerdy, because chances are, if you’re playing a video game, you probably like or at least know about anime and other nerdy TV and movies. And chances are, the people playing this game weren’t in the popular crowd and know what it feels like to want to keep their head down and not be bullied. At least, that’s what I did in high school.
I really like the way that the developers wrote Max. They never focus on the fact that she’s a girl. They instead write her as a human being. They simply have her react as a person put into uncomfortable and potentially dangerous situations, and I think that makes her character successful.
The game deals with some deep issues like drugs, bullying, and abuse, and it does it all in a believable and real way. It never feels over the top or ridiculous. The bullying feels like high school again, which Max herself points out multiple times. The present day setting doesn’t seem forced either. Yes, the characters use social media and text all the time, but that’s what people do now, including myself.
As for the mechanics of the game, I had a bit of trouble with them. For reference, I’m playing the game on my computer with a keyboard and mouse. I don’t play a ton of games, so my skill level isn’t that great. Most of the time I could easily go through the game, but there were a few times I got really stuck. At one point, I was supposed to find some tools, and it took me FOREVER to figure out where they were. I actually had to look up someone’s playthrough to figure out what I was supposed to do.
The time rewind function is really cool. The game tells you when the choice you make is going to have consequences, so that really upped the tension level for me. No matter what you choose, there’s going to be some negative in it. There’s pretty much never a clearly correct choice, which I really like. I also like the fact that, if you want, you can go through all of the options before picking the one you actually want to go with.
You may be thinking, “oh wow, I bet going through every option takes a whole lot of time.” Not really. The designers thoughtfully put a skip time function into the game. So when you’re going through spots where you’ve already heard the reactions and dialogue, you can simply skip ahead to the next major choice. That definitely helps the game not feel like it’s dragging or taking forever.
The art and character models are really beautiful. Like I said earlier, I think all of the characters look like real people. What they’re wearing and how they look already tell you about their character. As for how you move through the game, it can be a bit awkward. When you’re walking, you’ll see highlighted items on your screen. You have different options like Look, Talk, and Use. To choose an option, you have to click the mouse button and drag it to the choice you want. When you’re in a high-stress time situation, it can be a bit difficult to make the character do what you want her to do. Thankfully, that’s where you can use the rewind function. Because the game is all about reversing time, you have lots of chances to do what you want to do.
I enjoyed playing episode one. I liked learning about the characters, and I know that the choices I made in part one will have effects that I might not see for a couple of episodes, which is exciting for me. I will say that this first part definitely feels like an intro episode. The player gets to meet all of the characters and set the scene for the rest of the game.
I recommend Life is Strange, and I’m excited for the next episodes. I hope the story only gets better and the decisions more difficult! You can grab the game on Steam or on your Xbox or PlayStation.