Life is Strange PS4 Review
Publisher: Square Enix Developer: Dontnod Entertainment Genre: Adventure Players: 1
Age Rating: 16+ Other console/handheld formats: Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3
There are few games that have a good ratio of story to gameplay; whilst some will overwhelm you with plot, like the Metal Gear series, others have lots of gameplay, but very little story and depth. Life is Strange balances these two things perfectly, with a beguiling and thought-provoking story accompanied by explorative and immersive gameplay, both combining to keep you hooked and playing for hours at a time.
The premise of the game is conceptually an excellent one, exploring the Butterfly Effect but in a much different manner than what we have come to know in the recent Until Dawn. This time around, main protagonist Maxine ‘Max’ Caulfield finds herself burdened with a new power, one which enables her to rewind time and, ultimately, change her decisions. These changes can lead to any number of outcomes, leading Max on a cursed adventure to save her town of Arcadia Bay from destruction by a devastating tornado. At the core of the story is the friendship between Max and Chloe, close childhood friends who, for one reason or another, drifted apart but who are abruptly drawn back together by the weird events occurring around Arcadia Bay.
Life is Strange is very story-driven, with Max being a down-to-earth teenage girl who is following her dreams of becoming a famous photographer. She attends the very prestigious Blackwell Academy to improve her photographic skills and it is here where all the typical school drama begins, but quickly unravels to become something much darker. The story is very heartfelt and bittersweet, and you really do feel like the characters are people that could exist in real life and their characterisation certainly helps you to feel connected to them. Thankfully the game developers have a mature approach with how they deal with the games teenage characters, fleshing out their personalities to more than just ‘generic bully’ or ‘generic popular girl’ and do not resort to constant pop culture references in order to appeal to the audience. The story keeps you gripped from start to finish, managing with ease to emotionally invest you in its characters and world. There are many twists and turns and it really feels like you are on an arduous journey with Max, sharing the joy and pain as she questions what is the right and wrong thing to do about certain situations, and how best to use her new powers to resolve problems and help others.
Like Until Dawn, decisions are the focus of the game, though the outcome of such decisions is a lot vaguer. Some of the decisions that have to be made can be very heart-wrenching, and when a character is going through a terrible situation you genuinely feel helpless for them and want to do right by them; the game certainly makes you think before you choose, though even this may not always be enough, which can lead to an unexpected and equally shocking outcome. There are also decisions that need to be made on the spot, with certain events occurring that require Max to use her powers and sharp thinking in order to change the result; with these rapid sequences coming at you from out of the blue, the story makes sure to keep you on your toes.
Certain types of decisions that need to be made include the obvious 50/50 types, whereby Max will need to decide whether or not to tell someone the truth. There are decisions where the outcome won’t be so clear, such as choosing from multiple answers during a conversation. You will also have to decide whether or not to stand up to someone or side with someone else, or make simple decisions, such as deciding whether or not to sign a petition. Each decision you make is like taking a shot in the dark, and it’s not always apparent as to what the outcome will be of your decision making. Earlier decisions can impact an event that occurs much further into the game, so you really do have to choose wisely.
There are gameplay elements involving exploration and some puzzle solving using Max’s unique skill. The exploration has been given a lot of focus and isn’t treated as a side-note to the decision-making, being essential in finding subtle objects in the environment that can also contribute to the outcome of certain situations. Again, some objects will be obvious, but only the eagle-eyed players who search every nook and cranny will find every object to interact with and change the future of the story. Exploration will also uncover notes, posters and letters that give the story itself even more depth, allowing the player extra insight into what is happening with other characters off-screen as they concentrate on Max’s mission.
The puzzles in the game are few and far between, though the ones you do come across make excellent use of Max’s powers and because the puzzles are not featured so often, during these moments it is easy to forget that Max can use her powers to solve them, leaving you wondering what on earth you are supposed to do. That is down to player incompetence rather than poor game design, as the puzzles are certainly very cleverly created, yet simple once it dawns on you what you are supposed to do.
Another power Max possesses is the ability to use photographs to travel back in time to specific events; think Inception, but with photographs. This opens up a whole new world of story-telling and gameplay and with this new power it manages to keep the story fresh and intriguing.
There isn’t really much that can be said about Life is Strange without spoiling much of the plot, and isn’t one that should be spoiled. Released episodically, each of the five episodes keeps you on tenterhooks and wanting more, with some mind-blowing cliff-hangers. A brilliant and poignant game that questions fate and destiny, each episode offers something diverse and new, and Life is Strange is a must-play for any gamer to add to their back-catalogue of gaming. Go play it now!