Square Enix has always excelled at story focused games and Life is Strange is no exception. Max Caulfield is a photography student at the prestigious Blackwell Academy. After a bizarre vision, Max discovers she can rewind time. She first uses this ability to save a girl from being shot, a girl who turns out to be her best friend Chloe she’s been estranged from for five years. During their estrangement Chloe has been hanging with another girl called Rachel Amber, but Rachel has gone missing.
The game works as an interactive, open-ended novel. As Max, you travel round the campus and surrounding areas of Arcadia, speaking to classmates and other citizens of the town. The primary goal is to find out what happened to Rachel, but unfolding dramas and events seem to be connected and form a much larger picture which you have to get to the bottom of. Even small choices like whether or not to sign a petition or take a phone call have an impact on the storyline, and every time you make a decision that has consequences you are alerted to this. The game allows you to rewind and change a decision immediately if you don’t like the way its immediate effects play out.
Although the gameplay is not generally dynamic – you walk around, speak to people, interact with objects and rewind time where needed, the story is hugely ambiguous. There are five episodes in total and it becomes clear from episode one that many threads are connected, so speaking to one character about a drama might actually shed some light on another character and give a clearer idea of the overall picture.
The most fascinating aspect of the game is that there are often no clear choices. Unlike Catherine, in which your answers are unambiguous and will move you along on a good/bad scale accordingly, it is not always clear how your actions are going to impact others in the long term. There is no way of knowing how far reaching even a seemingly small action could be. The Chaos Theory is referenced in Life is Strange when Max sees a butterfly at the start of the game and a butterfly will appear in the top left corner whenever a change is made, maintaining the notion of the butterfly effect in that we have no way of knowing how our actions will affect others in the long term.
Life is Strange features a strong host of female characters and the style of the gameplay is very much geared towards those who enjoy social and drama based stories. Issues such as privacy, gun use, drug use, mental health and environmentalism are examined and used to support the game’s message that our actions and decisions often have a much bigger impact on the world around us than we realise. The game also throws in a relationship subplot, giving you the option to make Max lean towards either Warren or Chloe in a romantic way.
The indie soundtrack and the soft, dreamy aesthetic help the emotion of the game stand out. Whilst the dialogue can be grating and cheesy, throwing in a heavy dose of how adults seem to think modern teens speak, such as “go fuck your selfie” the voice cast is strong and this is a really enjoyable and interesting choice based game.
Life is Strange is available on multiple platforms now.