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.
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.
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,