“Life Is Strange” is an episodic computer game playable on all platforms. It is an exploration, point-and-click, solve the puzzle style adventure game but with a major difference. The choices you make during the game will determine the course of future events. There have been a few games of this type in the past; the most notable being ‘Heavy Rain’ on the PS3/4. Not having played Heavy Rain I can’t comment, but I do remember seeing the trailer and was disturbed enough to feel distinctly uncomfortable about possibly playing it.
This game has, I feel, two very clever and important distinctions. The first is that the main character, Max, has the ability to ‘rewind’ time for a short period and try alternate choices. The second is that the production and atmosphere of the game is redolent of nostalgia, surreality and has often been compared to David Lynch’s ‘Twin Peaks’. With the occasional nod to Lynch’s classic – such as the words “Fire walk with me” written on a bathroom mirror – we can see that this has been deliberate. There are other Easter Eggs.
So what is the Story?
“After a five-year absence, Max Caulfield returns to her hometown of Arcadia Bay to study photography at the prestigious Blackwell Academy. Readapting to life back in the Bay is tough, but when Max discovers her ability to rewind time and saves the life of her childhood friend Chloe Price, suddenly Blackwell’s social politics don’t seem so complicated.
“Max and Chloe soon realise that this power is the key to solving the mystery surrounding Rachel Amber, a popular Blackwell student who hasn’t been seen in months. Their investigation begins to reveal a much darker side to life in Arcadia Bay, but Max and Chloe remain determined to uncover the truth. Pushing her power to its limit, and haunted by apocalyptic visions of events to come, Max quickly learns that changing the past can have a devastating effect on the future…”
The atmosphere and mechanics in the game
Before even touching on the whole time-travel adventure part of the game (and trying to avoid Spoilers), the most striking feature of the game is the lazy, Sunday-afternoon style of nostalgia that seeps effortlessly from every pixel. Being slightly hard of hearing (a Viking’s life is full of battle alarums, screams, and lamentations of the womenfolk!), I generally tend to turn the music track down in games to focus on the voice-over interactions. After a while playing ‘Life is strange’, I realised that my experience was out of kilter; something was missing. I really only noticed during a musical cut-scene that was almost silent. So, I changed the settings and restarted the Episode.
What an astounding difference! The theme music is gentle, acoustic and lures you irresistibly into an irrational sense of timelessness. Although the beginning is noisy and dramatic, the game soon snaps you into a more comfortable environment. Max and her thoughts as she explores her environment (and you gradually learn the mechanics of game-play) are deep, full of clues, detail, and even nods to classic Geekdom. Sadly, it is all too easy to focus on the main storyline and avoid many of the mundane and evocative items and paths that you reward examining.
Exploring the Mundane and the Surreal
Despite the obvious mystery, drama & danger of the main story thread, the majority of the game explores the mundane world of an 18-year-old girl as she finds her way in the complex social world of a new school. As a mature and hairy Viking bloke, this is not my normal comfort zone! The intricacies of the situations and the depth of the characters (ignoring the awful depiction of American teenage dialogue) drew me in and I found myself rapidly caring for Max’s emotional well-being. Bonding with my BFF and dealing with a boy who obviously has a crush on me is a new and yet deeply fascinating experience for me! There are some very stimulating moral choices facing the player in what is essentially a teenage drama built around a powerful and mysterious event.
The surreality of the game begins as you explore Max’s inner world and become more aware that events in the ‘real world’ are continuing apace. This duality between timelessness and the pressure of events rushing around you is a constant reality during the game. When I discovered the ability to rewind time and tried alternate choices in difficult situations, I found the experience very liberating. Should I choose the ‘correct and caring’ approach or concentrate on choices that might help me survive?
And yet, there are times when your new-found “Superpower” is not enough to halt the inexorable rush of the timeline as it forces you to try and find beneficial choices when there aren’t any! I found my heart thumping as I desperately rewound again and again to find a good choice.
Choices, Choices, Choices…
An unexpected twist to the game came at the end of the episode. It is then that the game gives you stats (both global and from your friends) about the main choices in the game. What percentage of my friends made the selfless choices? How many people over watered that goddam plant? Oh, and I didn’t even see that opportunity or make that choice! The desire to re-play the game and try different choices makes me want to play the game again and again. Congrats to the designers! I’m not sure I would haver the time-spiral or the butterfly tattooed on my body as many of the game fans have, but it is a game I will come back to. If I had to find fault with this game, I would say that the Episodes are over too quickly. 4-5 hours is good entertainment, but like any good novel you don’t want it to be over.
If I had to find fault with this game, I would say that the Episodes are over too quickly. 4-5 hours is good entertainment, but like any good novel you don’t want it to be over. The dialogue is naff (dated, fixed in time and place) but I don’t see an easy way to capture teenage dialogue and avoid making it culturally fixed. The other possible fault is that although the illusion of Choice is present at every juncture, the story-line (arguably the timeline) is inexorable, and although you can slide the choices and finally, the ending towards different conclusions I did feel that the game directors were manipulating me rather than presenting me with the drama and allowing me true freedom of choice. Hard to manage within the confines of a computer game, I reckon!
Life is Strange
“Life Is Strange” is an episodic computer game playable on all platforms – PC, Mac, Linux,m PS3/4 and Xbox One/360. It uses the standard WASD keys to explore and is an exploring, point-and-click, solve the puzzle style of an adventure game but with a major difference. The choices you make during the game will determine the course of future events.
It is important to note that the very clever people over at Square Enix have released Episode 1 on Steam at zero cost – nada, zip, nowt, not a krona – and apparently they have no plans of increasing the price in the future. So, why not grab the game and try it out? Beware though.. after playing the first Episode you may find yourself, as I did, wanting to shell out the extra £16 for the remaining four Episodes. Episode 1 was not huge (maybe 4-5 hours?), but £4 for 4-5 hours entertainment in each Episode seems very reasonable to me.
Guest Viking – Svein Bloodaxe
Hailing from the Saxon stronghold of Haesta’s folk, Svein Bloodaxe spent many years on the High Seas a-viking before settling on the Southern shores. Having sustained a rather nasty injury (don’t ask him about the epithet, Bloodaxe, unless he has quaffed a few!), he settled down to a quiet life in Software Engineering.
PC Gaming has always been a fond love. From plying his trade, and a wee bit of piracy, in the space lanes of Elite on the BBC Microcomputer to the Neverwinter MMORPG on a PC, from Sonic the Hedgehog on the Sega Megadrive to the Total War series gaming has always been an essential relaxation (or strategic training depending on your viewpoint).
He also makes digital 3D art, throws knives, plays Djembe and Guitar (badly), and has been known to occasionally dance maniacally under a moonlit sky. His favourite book is “The Lord of the Rings”, favourite film is “2001: A Space Odyssey” and favourite cheese is Stilton.