The Rookie Plays… Life is Strange

Good day dear readers and many thanks for joining me for another edition of The Rookie Plays here on Shoot the Rookie. In this post I will be talking about Dontnod’s 2015 episodic drama-adventure, Life is Strange, so why not read on to find out my thoughts on this critically acclaimed game.

After what felt like an eternity of this game being in my backlog I finally got around to playing it over Christmas. I’m not sure why it took me so long but I think one of the reasons is that I’d noticed other people’s opinions of it seemed quite polarised and that left me worrying that I wouldn’t like it.

Somehow I successfully managed to avoid knowing too much about it before I started, to the extent that I didn’t even know about the main gameplay mechanic, so I jumped in pretty blind to what was coming. Now that I’ve finished it though, what did I think? Well let’s take a look!

*Beware! Possible Spoilers!*

Setting and Feel

Set in 2013 in a small town in Oregon, Life is Strange has a lot of atmosphere and personality, clearly drawing influence from Twin Peaks. Although there isn’t a huge amount of free exploration, the town and the people feel well realised, creating a small-town vibe with an underlying sense of decay and a yearning for past prosperity. Much of the game takes place in a college and I found this well represented too. Sitting in the midst of beautiful woodland and home to squirrels and birds and all kinds of nature, the college itself is pretty normal and I found that it conveyed the college experience very well. Although I generally thought the setting and atmosphere were good, I did have a few gripes, particularly with the use of language, which would have felt more appropriate for a game set in 2002 rather than 2013. I also didn’t particularly enjoy the soundtrack which was almost all twee-indie rubbish. Given that one of the main characters is a punk I thought we could have had a bit more variety.

It is hard to classify Life is Strange into one genre, but for me it felt most reminiscent of old school adventure games but reimagined for the modern day.

Gameplay

There are two main gameplay elements which work together. Firstly, much of the game is about making choices, both hugely important and seemingly trivial, which effect the progress of the story. Secondly, the main character Max is able to reverse time, meaning that if you decide you made the wrong choice or you missed something important then you can rewind and do things differently. I found both of these enjoyable and effective and served as excellent storytelling tools. I did however sometimes feel that I was asked to make decisions without enough information, or where I didn’t understand what the choice itself was. I also felt that the game offered little in the way of feedback to the player.

There is of course a lot more going on in the game than decision making and time reversal, some of which I really liked and some of which I didn’t. The main thing I disliked were the stealth elements, particularly a long section at the end which felt like it was never going to end. This isn’t a criticism as such, I mean those sections were done fine, just that I really hate stealth and wasn’t expecting it. I did however really enjoy the more casual aspects of the game, its exploration and conversation elements really fleshed out the world and the overall story. Things like watering plants and feeding pets were all very welcome elements you could do at your own pace, whilst also being cleverly woven in to the story. It also features a number of puzzles and memory tests which I generally thought were well done and enjoyable.

Characters and Story

I’m a bit conflicted in writing this section because the characters are probably the main driving force of the game. You spend so much time with them that you feel like you’ve got to know them and I really appreciated that it didn’t try to rose-tint the personality of college students too much, by which I mean some of them are not very nice or easy to read. Whilst I didn’t love the game’s protagonist Max, I did feel like I was rooting for her and that I was with her on the journey. Thinking about it, I’m not sure there were any characters that I really loved, although Warren is a sweety and I liked Kate’s sincere personality. However, as I said a lot of the characters are deliberately not nice and they are probably the most interesting characters. It is pretty much impossible to like either Victoria or Nathan but I found them both very interesting.

The one character I really struggled with was Chloe. I didn’t have any idea whether I was supposed to like her or not, but until right at the end I found her very difficult. I couldn’t understand why Max was friends with her and as a result often sided against Chloe when making choices as I felt siding with her would be irresponsible. By the end something had changed for me and I think that rather than disliking her I just felt sorry for her, but I have found myself unable to explain why.

The story itself is interesting and compelling and I found it kept me guessing until the end. It did perhaps go a bit too far off the rails in the last episode but it kept my interest firmly engaged nonetheless, even if I did find that the ending left me feeling a bit blank after everything I’d been through with the game.

Final Thoughts

Overall I thought Life is Strange was very good and I enjoyed it a lot. The fact that I finished it very quickly, often playing four or five hours at a time (which for me is highly unusual) is real evidence of how much it drew me in. I thought there were some elements of the game, particularly around the choice making mechanic that could have been better and I could’ve done without the stealth sections, but they are minor gripes. For me the biggest problem was that the game didn’t really offer me any sense of achievement – and although I think this was a deliberate move by the developers, it personally left me feeling a bit unfulfilled.

Nonetheless this is a game which will stick in my memory for a long time to come with its well realised setting and characters, and I very much enjoyed the opportunity to try a type of game I hadn’t experienced before.


So there we have it! My thoughts on Life is Strange! Does this make you want to play it? I guess most of you have already played it, but if so what did you think? Did you go on to play the sequels too? Let me know below in comments and join me next time for more vague musings on video games and anime.

Thanks for reading,

Pix1001 x

8 thoughts on “The Rookie Plays… Life is Strange

Add yours

  1. Great review! I did play it and like it back when the final part came out. I haven’t played the sequels but mostly because of lack of time. I was similarly dissatisfied with the ending and how it rendered so much so unfairly pointless in retrospect. As a fan of twee-indie rubbish I really enjoyed some of the music too 😁. Well, Bright Eyes, anyway. And Chloe listening to Amanda Palmer felt like the single most believable and loaded bit of characterisation in the whole game

    Liked by 1 person

  2. Don’t get me wrong the music did largely suit the game, but there were some parts where I just wanted it to ramp up as the drama increased. Apart from that it’s just a personal taste thing for me. I’ve never to my knowledge heard Amanda Palmer (although I feel she is mentioned a lot by friends!) so I didn’t clock that, but it is cool when a soundtrack can create moments like that!

    Weirdly I saw Bright Eyes once, at Glastonbury in 2005, but I think it’s safe to say it wasn’t their best ever performance…

    Liked by 1 person

  3. I found your review really interesting. I think the crux of it is that an experience like Life is Strange is slightly outside of the normal expectation of what a ‘game’ is. I have played a lot of games of this genre now and a lot of the joy comes from discussing it afterwards. I think that’s what makes them a great way of exploring characters, situations and topics in a way that promotes discussion, and in a way that’s what they are actually about. I still talk about this game with my friends, even those who don’t even play games!
    Some of your observations that you felt were possibly criticisms of the game I felt were what made the game so good. I shared a lot of your opinions but somehow I think they make the game rather than hinder it. I found Max very aggravating but it didn’t spoil my engagement with the story or the game. I wonder if the expectation that we should like the protagonist, particularly when WE have picked their choices, isn’t always necessary. Plus I think sometimes this genre requires the main character to be a little bit vacuous so that they have space for growth through player choices. It is probably quite difficult for the development team to make that person likeable when they also have to balance hundreds of different narrative threads and associated dialogue choices. Similarly the feeling of dissatisfaction at the ending I think is supposed to be deliberate (although that could be based on your in game choices). I also found myself working against Chloe in my decisions and the fact that you felt pity for Chloe at the end was exactly the same as me and the person who played it alongside me. If you play Before the Storm you come to understand that feeling more I think. Again, at the end of the day it is all about what choices you make in a game like this how you felt the experience went.
    I think this game was revolutionary in helping to kick-start the modern exploration of a genre which deserves further development and growth as the technology improves and interest continues. It makes a welcome change from the usual commercial releases.

    P.s. I didn’t like LIS2 as much either but I would definitely give it a go because I would love to hear what you think of it. I would also recommend ‘Tell Me Why’ but I think it is Xbox only X

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Interesting. I enjoyed the game when it came out though felt it benefitted from being able to play it in one go. The episodic release window would have put me off playing it fully.

    I wasn’t a huge fan of Chloe but enjoyed Before The Storm, even though it was a diff studio def felt in the spirit of the 1st game and worked as a twosome

    Liked by 1 person

  5. This is one I’ve always avoided for completely stupid and unfair reasons, namely that I don’t really feel like reliving anything that resembles my late teenage years. That’s obviously not the developer’s or publisher’s problem, so I can’t criticize them for the setting. The games do look interesting, especially with morally ambiguous or not totally likable characters (though I think there’s a limit to how far unlikability can be taken before I give up unless it’s a dark comedy or something.)

    Liked by 1 person

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