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Monday, March 05, 2018

Review: Life is Strange (PS4)

Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game that falls into the faux-choice genre. In other words, while you're given choices and approaches to dialog, the plot doesn't actually change, and in key places in the story you're just driven on rails along the major plotline. In effect, the game has only one real choice, the last one you make in episode 5. Everything else is fluff or flavor.

The plot revolves around Max Caulfield, who's won a scholarship to a prestigious arts-oriented high school in the fictional town of Acadia Bay, Oregon. One day, while using the bathroom, she overhears a conversation between a friend she hasn't seen for years (Chloe), and a boy in the school. The encounter turns nasty, a gun is pulled, and Max discovers that she can rewind time.

The rewind mechanic is very well done, and the game provides several puzzles which can only be solved through Max's powers. Interestingly enough, dialog trees can also be rewound, so you can redo encounters and conversations until you get the response you're happy with. The game even helps you out by providing a "fast-forward" button so you can skip parts of the conversation that you've already heard.

The art direction is superb, though there are several technical glitches here and there on the PS4, where voices don't line up with character animation. This could be because the dialog has to be localized into multiple languages, but I think could simply be a limitation of the facial capture and animation technology. The music and sound direction is also excellent, providing a multi-media experience that's enticing, and in many moments lyrical. The music soundtrack is actually worth listening to, independent of the game.

In terms of story, the writing is actually better than many critically acclaimed movies. For instance, I think the story in Life is Strange is much better than Your NameThe Girl Who Leapt Through Time or even The Time Traveler's Wife. In any case, throughout the 5-Episode series the game winds and rewinds time continually. You get more exposition about the limits of Max's powers, and insight into the people who fill the world she lives in. By the end of the story, you've learned to care about them. Even the reveal is a surprise, though fair. The game's also not afraid to spend time on character development, rather than dumping puzzle after puzzle on you

Here's the best thing about the game: Max Caulfield is actually a really nice person and a great protagonist. The game portrays her as an introvert and her voice actress is great at showing her hesitancy in expressing herself. It's rare to see well-written introverts in the movies, but in video games? Max stands alone. At every point in time, you see her always trying to do the right thing. She's full of empathy and you're always rooting for her. She's a great heroine and when she faces agonizing choices you feel for her, even though you know most of those choices are false.

My biggest issue with this game is that the story isn't improved by it being an interactive game. Some of the puzzles are tedious and just break the flow and narrative. I think doing the plot/storyline as an actual TV series with great actors might actually be better than the medium of interactive media, especially given that many of the choices provided turned out to be false and fake.

Nevertheless, compelling story, great art direction, many interesting puzzles, and good music make this a complete package. It's worth your time and deserves its awards. Recommended. And play it with a good sound system. The game deserves that effort.

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