Dontnod Entertainment’s Life is Strange is one of those games that places incredible focus on the dramatic elements of unfolding sequences of events. Part of a new episodic series, this IP manages to create a very homey sense of atmosphere that’s wrapped up in teenage angst with dashes of mystery and perhaps even Sci-Fi.
Once an often overlooked area of video gaming (mostly relegated to the old-school PC point-and-click adventure crowd), narrative-driven games are becoming more and more popular. Peeling back the veneer on this one, we find a strong undertone running throughout which seems to be ever-present to the game’s central character, a certain Miss Max Caulfield. Without revealing too many intimate details (which would ruin a game like this, as it is entirely story-driven), let’s just say that our heroine discovers that she has certain special abilities which in turn impacts the people around her in various ways. Instead of being presented with a somewhat comforting atmosphere, she is essentially browbeat in various ways, seemingly continuously, even though she’s trying to save the lives of those around her. There’s an ever-present sense of being unsettled, maybe even a dash of hostile xenophobia too. It’s all for setting the vibe though, which is what drives the drama forward in the end.
On the more technical side of things, it is beautifully rendered, with great artwork and aplomb, positively dripping with style. If you’re after a game that can basically act as pseudo-passive entertainment, light on gameplay, this is definitely worth checking out. Again however, there’s a pervasive undercurrent present throughout the unfolding plot which seems to stress that the player owes something to the world, or has somehow failed in some manner. Straight away, this will likely push some gamers away who would definitely shrink away or flinch from such treatment, especially when they’re used to dishing out the punishment.
All in all though, the game’s saving grace is the way it marries bits of dialogue and other unique media with exploratory 3rd person gameplay. Hints, clues and items are very authentic-looking and go far in helping to tell the story, mostly through internal monologue. It is this inward focus which allows you to connect with the lead character and more or less experience their daily trifles. The monkey wrench in the equation is the time manipulation factor, which again, need not be discussed in too great of detail; otherwise we’re entering spoiler territory. Things are not so simple though, what we think is only one layer of the plot turns out to be part of a deeper phenomenon. Saving certain individuals in turn reveals a more distant objective, one that surrounds even more compelling consequences.
All things considered, Life is Strange is a great episodically-based series that falls in line with other bits of eerie fiction set within fictional worlds revolving around teenage angst and violence. It is definitely one of those games that subtly places wedges between the player and the environment, which is where the gameplay tension emanates from.