Life Is Strange – Review (PS4)

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Life Is Strange is an episodic game that tells the story of Max Caulfield, a student who has returned to her hometown to take an elite photography course at Blackwell Academy. She has been away for five years, since her family moved to Seattle and we meet Max in October 2013, awaking from a nightmare as she slept in class. After class finishes she makes her way to the restroom where a chance encounter leads to a discovery… that Max can rewind time.

Choice is a big theme in a lot of games, Heavy Rain, Beyond: Two Souls, The Walking Dead and, more recently, Until Dawn gave the player a selection of choices throughout the game that helped to shape the player’s experience and story. Life Is Strange does the same but with a slightly different twist.

Max can rewind time at will, you’re free to rewind by pressing L2 most of the time, and this also extends to conversations. So as well as manipulating certain events to happen at a set time, she can also get more information from people than you would just by speaking to them. You can have a full conversation, get some information and then rewind and have the conversation again. Only this time you will have extra dialogue choices based on what you found out and what the character you’re talking to doesn’t know they already told you. Still with me? 🙂

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The other twist on the choice mechanic is that Max’s power doesn’t have an ‘energy bar’ or limited use. She can only rewind time so far but she, and by extension you the player, can do so over and over. This gives you the freedom to choose different options, see what happens and then rewind and try something else. If you prefer the original choice just rewind again and reselect it. If not go with something else. I feel this is a great innovation in the genre and while it wouldn’t suit all choice-based games, it really makes Life Is Strange stand out from other similar titles.

Graphically the game has a really nice art style, which looks gorgeous at times. It uses lighting well and the characters are modelled with believable facial animations, the only downside is the movement of mouths which, for the most part, don’t really match up to the dialogue being spoken. It’s a small gripe in the grand scheme of things and not a huge problem given that the game was made with a smaller budget than a lot of other titles.

The story itself was gripping and it was a painful wait between episodes, with about a two month period between each installment. There were a few odd inconsistencies in the story but nothing that did too much damage, especially as a lot of the time you’d be altering the timeline anyway and changing things. The characterisation was superb, with most of the people you meet feeling like well fleshed out characters, each with a story to tell if you wanted to listen. There was the rare occasion where characters veered away from the personality they’d shown previously, particularly in the final episode, but I never found it too much of an issue.

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Before we discuss another big part of the game, music, I wanted to flag up, in the interests of full disclosure, that I did actually work on Life Is Strange, helping to make sure they could use the Sparklehorse track that features in the game. With that out of the way, it would be remiss not to discuss the music in this game. A selection of great tracks, for a start, that are used so well and do much to add to the game. The music is as much a character in Life Is Strange as some of the other supporting roles. The opening of Life Is Strange features, in my opinion, possibly the greatest use of music within a title. It’s seamless, suits the scene perfectly and puts you straight into the head of Max. Wonderful stuff.

The game comprises of five episodes, each ranging between two and half to three and half hours. There is plenty of content to get through, although the ability to rewind time to check out different dialogue/choice options within the first playthrough might limit the replayability of the game for some. Having said that there are also chances for Max to practice her photography, with picture opportunities scattered around levels and not clearly marked for the player. Each of these will net you a trophy so perhaps people might find some extra playtime going back to find these.

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I fell in love with Life Is Strange right from the opening credits of the first episode. As long time readers of my blog might know, I am a sucker for anything time bending or time travel related and the developers have provided a rich, varied cast of characters to join you for the ride. There were moments I didn’t see coming that made me smile and a fair few that had me welling up. One cliffhanger ending to an episode left my jaw on the floor. Life Is Strange is everything a piece of entertainment should be – enjoyable, well made and memorable.

Rating 10/10

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