Finding a truly original video game in today’s highly satiated market is no easy task, and whilst there’s plenty of good new games constantly being available, it’s not very often that we see something completely different to anything we’ve seen before. Dontnod Entertainment’s Life is Strange is a cut above the rest when it comes to originality.
We’ve just completed Life is Strange Episode 1, and needless to say, we were both immensely impressed and can’t wait to get our hands on the next episode.
You play as Max(ine) Caulfield, a 18-year old high school student who has recently moved back to her childhood home town to study photography at the local private school, Blackwall Academy. Blackwall isn’t as idyllic as Max hoped, and so she’s a bit of an outsider to the typical high school cliques you’re quickly introduced to. You quickly learn there’s a local missing girl – not much about her is revealed straight away, but you instantly get the impression she’s somehow pivotal to the plot. And then comes the clincher – after waking up from what seemed like a nightmare in the middle of class, Max discovers she can rewind time.
It’s a very handy skill to have, especially if you’re a video game protagonist, don’t you think?
Episode one sees you lead Max through a very bizarre day at Blackwall Academy, using your power to rewind time to work in your advantage – and do a bit of sucking up to the people you meet. I don’t want to talk too much about the story because I don’t want to give anything away in case you haven’t played this beauty yet. And if you haven’t – you need to go play it. Right now.
What I will say though is that the story is well-written and believable. You instantly care for Max, and instantly dislike the characters that Max doesn’t like. She’s what you might imagine a somewhat geeky 18-year old American high school student to be – she’s strange, she’s got her own quirks, and she feels real. Even with the science-fiction addition of Max’s ability to rewind time, you’re still engulfed in the reality of everything that’s happening. The dialogue feels natural, although some of Max’s inner thoughts and dialogue occasionally feel a little too much (but you can put that down to the strangeness of Max’s personality, and not poor writing).
A lot of the time in the game is spent walking around, interacting with objects and people. We were never at a loss of where we needed to go; the game makes it obvious as to your next task. That’s not to say you’re being completely guided throughout – there are still some things you need to figure out, but the areas are small so it doesn’t take much to work out. This isn’t some point and click from the 90s filled with obscure puzzles and bizarre combinations of objects to achieve something. The game isn’t about trying to catch you out by being too puzzling. You’re meant to sail smoothly through the experience to just take everything in at your own pace. You’re encouraged to wander round and take things slowly, and trust us, you’ll want to soak up as much of this delight as possible.
Life is Strange Episode 1 is, in a word, gorgeous to look at. Whilst the art style is not hyper-realistic (nor does it intend to be), it’s well-executed and flawless. The colours are so vivid and often it feels very dreamlike. It runs as smooth as silk and didn’t falter once throughout the entire playthrough.
If you’re looking for a high-intensity action packed game, you won’t find it here, but what you will find is impeccable graphics, excellent voice acting and a very engaging story. The closest thing we have to compare this to is of course, the episodic games by Telltale. And sorry Telltale fans, Dontnod’s first effort at anything like this completely blows anything else out of the water.