Life is Strange is that stupid little episodic game about teenage stuff that I ignored for so long until someone said it had a great story. The catch being that it’s not really stupid, not really about teenage stuff… or yes, it is, but there’s another detail that for some miracle of the gaming gods I didn’t have spoiled before my first play through. I am hesitant to even talk about it, but it is such an integral part of why the game ended up being such a surprise.
Therefore: SPOILERS IN THE VERY NEAR FUTURE
Life is Strange is the story of Max, a young girl with a taste for photography and vintage cameras who returns to her hometown to study Photography in the prestigious Blackwell Academy. Cliques, the mean girls, the geeks, jocks… everything is what one would expect; the town itself hasn’t changed much. Max will be reunited with a former best friend, meet some crazy and potentially dangerous classmates, and learn more about the town and its residents. It’s essentially a teenage drama in video game form. But it’s very early on that the game’s twist appears, and I am glad I didn’t know anything about it.
Max suddenly gets the power to rewind time.
I know I was trying to avoid spoilers for this game since I had heard it was great, but I am surprised I managed to avoid this – it’s the soul of the game! I was unsure what the game was gonna be about – I thought it was a drama story game – but this changed everything. Max discovers she has this power when she suddenly faces a student shooting an unknown blue-haired girl in the bathroom. Helpless to stop it, she screams and suddenly realizes she jumped back in time to before she even went to the bathroom. When the events prior start to repeat one by one, she rushes to the bathroom and is able to change the fate of the mysterious blue-haired girl who would be (was?) shot earlier.
Things start snowballing from here. The gun-wielding student is the son of a very wealthy and important citizen of the town, the kind that will use money and power to keep things quiet, and Max will start being systematically harassed for reporting the event to the Academy’s principal. Her best friend is suddenly depressed because she is being bullied for her beliefs. The school’s Security Officer is possibly spying on students. Her childhood’s best friend turns out to be the girl that was supposed to get shot in the bathroom, but she is now a rebel, and is filling town with papers looking for a missing girl who was connected to her somehow. To top it off, Max starts getting a vision of a huge tornado wiping the town. Is it just a vision resulting from her newfound powers? Or is it the future? Is the sudden and scientifically unexplained snow falling on the town a sign? Can she save the town?
It’s suddenly no wonder the game is popular. It’s a very interesting premise! All of this happens while Max leads her regular academic life, keeps up with friends, goes about her business and works to get back her relationship with her former best friend. The ability to rewind time as a game mechanic is great to try different conversations, different outcomes. A character that refuses to speak to you because of something you say can open up if you go back and say something different; while a character can give you an important clue or answer that you can apply to another conversation in the past… or is it the new present? Time shenanigans. The game wants you to choose what to say or do, which you can go back an reverse, but eventually you’re gonna have to move on by making settling on a choice… and choices bring consequences. For example earlier I mentioned that I reported the gun event to the Principal, but I could have chosen not to. Would I have had my room rummaged if I had kept it secret? What would have happened had I taken the blame for something I didn’t do… all to stand up for a friend?
I have so far played the two first episodes, each of them in one sitting. I find the plot super interesting and definitely want to know what will happen. Good thing the game is out now in its entirety, so I don’t have to wait for the next episode. Special mention goes to the graphic engine. It’s not aiming for ultra-realism but everything looks fantastic, with a touch of paint-like surface added to everything.
Oh and cute fact: all trophies for the game are named from something related to photography. Fun.