Life is Strange – a post-mortem

It’s over.
I really do not want it to be over. And filling the hole this game left wont be easy.
But that’s how it is, and I cannot thank dontnod enough for creating this magnificient piece of work. The world would indeed be a poorer place without it, and I am not saying this lightly. It truly is one of the, if not simply the best ride I ever had in gaming.

There are spoilers below. I wont call names, but some things are by neccessity of the discussion quite obvious. Consider yourself warned and DO NOT READ ON IF YOU PLAN TO PLAY THE GAME!
Seriously, don’t. I got spoilered-by-accident yesterday by the title of a linked yt-video in fb. Even minor spoilers can drastically alter the perception of the game.
You have been warned.

So, what exactly is Life is Strange?
On the bottom line, Life is Strange is an episodic Walking Simulator with a time travel-mechanic, your-decisions-matter and some puzzles sprinkled on top.
The specifics of the time travel – location-, knowledge- and inventory-coherence – allow the player to solve puzzles or rewind conversations to take another path down the dialogue-tree or incorporate additional knowledge into a conversation.
The player controls Maxine – Max – Caulfield, a student of 18 years, who returns to her hometown Arcadia Bay to attend Blackwell Academy, Arcadia Bays Senior Highschool. A lot of shit is going down in this sleepy coastal settlement, and of course Max and her at the beginning of the game newly emerged ability to control time are the center of the action.

To be fair and honest: the game is by no means perfect. The character-models tend to suffer from an animatronics-rubberface-look, which becomes quite disturbing during emotional scenes, where the faces are simply not up for the challenge. There’s also a certain wet rubber-look as soon as wet skin is involved.
One might also complain about the quite two-dimensional portrait of some of the characters, who only gain depth at the end of the game – and even then it is not much. On the other hand, this helps framing certain characters as the obviously bad ones, an assumption which will backfire quite a bit.
Another problem I run into at several times was the total loss of immersion by game mechanics. There are conversations which obviously have a best outcome, eg. in terms of “involved persons wounded/dead”. So I heavily used the rewind ability to find the least-harm-done-path. This in turn totally shattered my immersion – after all, all I was doing was abusing the core mechanic of the game to optimize outcome. Another example are life-or-death-situations, where you have to rewind again and again until you finally solve the puzzle, which can get frustrating if you’re too blind to see the object you need… Another total loss of immersion occured to me in the last episode, where a character acted totally out of percieved character to clarify something which really did not need clarification.
A final point: outside of important decision, dialogue-choice often is a farce, resulting in not much variation in the outcome. Most of the time this does not matter, but should you walk through a conversation multiple times for whatever reason, you will notice.

But beside these points, the game is wonderful. The story, which gets more and more terrifying during the game, is masterfully told. I didn’t see the plot-twists coming, but I’m probably not the person to give this praise out.
The levels are lovingly designed, with lots and lots of clutter to discover. The attention to detail is marvellous. The characters are well designed and feel real – or real enough, even when they lack some depth sometimes.
The choices made by the player matter. They come back and bite you. Or they come back and help you. Both things can happen. And the game does not give you GoodPointz(tm) or EvilPointz(tm) for your actions. They simply have consequences, and you will have to live with it.

I also want to give this game credit for the nature of the story, some of the topics it hits the player in the face with and the way it deals with some other. I wont go into details, but this game feels grown up. It deals with dark dark themes, it asks for decisions that can be very difficult to make, and stuff most other games avoid, tiptoe around or use for laughs or fanservice are brought up and dealt with in an adult manner. I would go into details, but that’s very very deep inside spoiler country.

To wrap this up: I stay by my food-comparison made earlier. Life is Strange is soulfood. This game feels good. And I cannot recommend it enough.

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