Life is Strange is flawed, that much cannot be denied. The visuals are notably cheap at times, the writing occasionally feels like an adult trying very hard to talk like a teenager and certain narrative elements are poorly introduced. HOWEVER, in spite of all that, it is already setting itself up for me on a personal level as a Game of the Year 2015 contender. If you’ve ever played No More Heroes, you’ll likely understand the lingering “flawed but amazing” opinion I have for Life is Strange‘s first episode.

Life is Strange is a five episode point and click adventure game series centered around the struggles of a young woman in her late teens. Having moved away with her parents to Seattle for the better part of her teenage years, Max returns home to the small town she grew up in to study photography. Following a series of vivid visions, Max finds herself a witness to the murder of an old friend and in her distraught state, she is able to reverse time to before the young woman is killed.

The way this ability to travel backwards in time manifests in gameplay is that players can at any time rewind through the current scene they are in, remaking choices and seeing how they might play out differently. Any items or knowledge you acquire will stick with you when you travel backward in time, meaning that you can learn the solution to a problem by failing, then rewind and improve how you go through the scene based on what you learned.

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The time travel ability only extends back as far as when you entered a new area of the map before Max starts to experience huge amounts of pain. The benefit to this is that unlike many other games that offer narrative choice, you can see the short term consequences of your actions and see the outcomes of every choice before being forced to commit to any decision. By limiting how far back the player can travel, you’re able to commit properly to your short term choices, but their long term ramifications won’t become apparent until you’re too far along to change things. It’s a really nice system mechanically and really helped me feel a strong sense of ownership over my path through the game.

The first episode of Life is Strange, Chrysalis, is largely focused on setting up Max’s world, introducing her ability to rewind time and creating the initial conflicts that will likely become the backdrop to future episodes. You interact with friends, deal with unsavoury characters, face choices with no clear right path and generally amble through a very eventful day in a young girl’s life.

So, here’s the thing about Life is Strange that struck me: It feels like a game aimed at women in their early twenties, a few years past their angsty teenage years, who are into anime, video games, indie rock and punk music. It feels like it’s for women who’ve bounced between being the shy normal kid at the back of the class afraid to share their creative works and being the slightly rebellious girl with dyed hair and tattoos. I challenge you to name another game that has that as its target demographic. I challenge you to name another game that feels so squarely created for me as an audience. Well, other than perhaps Gone Home.

Life is Strange feels like the creators of Juno sat down with David Cage to make a video game centred around teenage female angst mixed with some supernatural elements. Somehow, what they made turned out really well. This game is exactly what I have been looking for from video games for years, a video game that feels tailored to me and my tastes.

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So, as I said at the start, Life is Strange is far from perfect. Some of the game’s character animations, particularly when it comes to lip syncing, are noticeably off. I found myself during dialogue often making a conscious effort not to focus on the lips, as their movements were distractingly inconsistent with the rest of the game’s design.

Also worth noting, while the dialogue is generally engaging and natural, there are occasional word choices in dialogue that feel out of place. It’s not frequent, but occasionally you’ll have a word thrown into a sentence that feels like a mid 40’s businessman threw it in because he thought teenagers spoke that way. It’s not a huge issue, I was able to overlook it and still engage with the narrative, but I can see how it could really annoy some players. Be warned, you’ll have to contend with a few “hella”‘s more than is really appropriate.

Lastly, it’s worth noting that the section of the narrative that introduces the ability to rewind time is a little awkwardly handled. There’s a lot of expositional internal monologue used after Max first travels backwards in time to explain what has happened.

“I’m back in my classroom, I think I traveled back in time. I’ll know for sure if that girl throws that paper at my friend”

“She threw the paper at my friend, that means I really did travel back in time. I’ll know for sure if that girl’s phone goes off”

“Her phone really did go off again. If my teacher asks the same question again I’ll know this is real”.

It’s not a huge deal, but it kills the flow for a little while after a huge narrative event, which is a bit of a shame.

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With all this said, I still absolutely loved the three hours I spent playing through the first episode of Life is Strange. It’s a largely well written, female centric narrative that was consistently well framed, contained a fantastic soundtrack and a really interesting mechanical addition to the choose-your-own-adventure narrative. Its world felt very real, its choices felt substantial, its characters were memorable and I’m hugely excited to see how the series progresses from here. Well done Dontnod, Life is Strange is easily my most anticipated gaming experience to continue this year. Darn that six week wait for episode 2.

Review - Life is Strange: Episode 1 - Chrysalis
Pros
  • Fantastic female centric narrative
  • Time rewind mechanic refreshes the genre
  • Stellar soundtrack
Cons
  • Poor lip sync
  • Occasionally weird dialogue
  • Repetitive intro section
8Flawesome
Reader Rating: (4 Votes)
8.7

About The Author

Founding Member

Laura’s gaming journey began in the 90′s when she was given a SNES by her older brother with Mario paint. From that day video games were all she thought about day or night, be it playing them, designing them, discussing them or writing about them. Why does she want to write about indie games? Because indie devs are awesome and she wants to be their new best friend by telling them how terrible their games are. That’s how it works right? Twitter: @LauraKBuzz Email: Laurak@indiehaven.com

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  • SGM Soultamer

    Hi! I’ve been looking through reviews of Life is Strange, and this one really brought out what I needed to know about it. Thanks for being completely honest about what you didn’t particularly enjoy.

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  • People talking to themselves is a really bad idea. Unless the stuff coming out of their mouth is batshit insane rambling verging on meaninglessness, in which case that’s just realism right there. Because I’m pretty sure that’s how we all “talk” to ourself. It’s back of the brain chirps in other words.

  • James of Extra Credits did a video recommendation of this game. It really does look impressive and atmospherically like my kind of thing. The setup seems like straight Donnie Darko, I wish it didn’t have the supernatural elements, that kind of gives me reservations, especially time travel as a mechanic, decision trees already begin to depress me.

    It may just be the non-lipsyncing that is going on, but in fairness, a lot of the time, watching videos online, the parts where the characters talk to themselves seem to be inner monologues instead of actually talking aloud like talking to pets or something, which would be just weird, kind of like in Gravity. Inner monologues make perfect sense as a way to give the player some insight into the character’s thoughts and some necessary direction in that regard. It’s certainly a well worn mechanic in books.

    A teenager with Andy Warhol in their locker, I’m not really buying it, but it kind of had me at that. I could see Andy in the picture as crude as it is before she talks to it, or thinks to it? I don’t have a problem with time travel gimmick in theory, it just seems like a bad idea given that there are no games like this, to subject it to something arch gamey like that, seems just WRONG. I want this on Gameflix. $8/mo for a family of four+ not necessarily living together. Invent that.