Life Is Strange: It isn’t just strange, it’s pretty good

What would you do if you could rewind the last couple of minutes of your life, at will? You’d abuse it to your benefit possibly to help others too, right? Of course you would so you’ll be pleased to know it’s just what you get to do in Life Is Strange, as lead character Max discovers she has that very power. Initially using it to learn information that helps her answer a question in photography class at the academy she’s attending, Max soon enough uses the rewind functionality in her brain to stop an old friend being murdered in the toilet. Oh, the American school system…

This being a game of choice and consequence would make you think the rewind function, well, breaks everything, right? Far from it Life Is Strange is designed with how you will affect things over time; the time you have no power over is the one that is most powerful. You might be able to make your decisions repeatedly in the moment, but once you’re past it, the future is set you, and others, will literally live and die by your decisions. Said decisions are made in a style anyone who’s played The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us will be used to a modern take on the point-and click genre, and a slow, plodding pace compared to many recent Xbox One releases. But this pace and the atmosphere it conjures up benefits hugely from Life Is Strange’s visual direction, which couples fairly unspectacular, bog-standard character models and animation with a hand-painted touch. This extra layer of sheen really brings things alive visually, and adds a certain touch of the other worldly to a game that absolutely benefits from being a touch off in its looks.

While we’d like to say the same about the choice of music, that isn’t true. Sure, it is atypical in gaming to hear an indie soundtrack (in the US sense, not in the Oasis/Shed 7 sense), full of twangling guitars and tweeness leaking out of its orifices, but it’s not other worldly. It works though, because it helps to back up one of the biggest influencing factors for Life Is Strange: teen movies.
“That’s the hook this is a series designed around choices that actually matter”
Anyone who’s seen anything by the master John Hughes or the countless rip-offs of the genre he made relevant to so many millions will immediately see where Life Is Strange draws a big influence from. It’s not written snappily or particularly cleverly enough to hit you with those emotional gut-punches that Hughes and his pretenders (the better ones, at least) could, but it’s a refreshing almost brave, in a way setting to immerse the player in. No bald space marines,a lack of brown-saturated environments, an inability to shoot NPCs in the face Life Is Strange just seems to have ignored everything that’s apparently popular about modern gaming. And it’s all the better for it. There’s violence, bad language, drug use all the good stuff but this is a story first and foremost, and the place it’s in that being a college girl’s life isn’t one for run-and-gunning ghastly aliens with a 45:1 k/d ratio. That’ll probably arrive by Episode 3.

Life Is Strange also isn’t difficult, in that it doesn’t ask you to react quickly to things, it doesn’t demand dexterity from its players nor do you really need to know where most of the buttons on the pad are. But it’s not a game made to be hard it’s an experience meant to be had and shared with others, one where you learn and re-learn, one where you actually do think about what you’re doing on a level deeper than in, say, The Walking Dead. That was a game where choices absolutely correctly, because of the setting were often between killing one person or the other, in a very direct, high-pressure fashion.

Life Is Strange, meanwhile, asks you to think: what could happen? You can likely figure out the short-term ramifications (in fact, you can literally see them, then rewind to your decision-making point), but can you figure out where things will lead in the long-term? And that’s the hook this is a series designed around these choices mattering around innocent, ‘good’ things you did in the first episode coming back to bite you in the backside a few episodes later. While we haven’t played the latter entries yet, we’ve been shown a few examples of decisions in the first game and how they affect things later on it was genuinely surprising at times.

It’s short, but at £3.99 for the single episode it’s inexpensive, and absolutely an experience worth getting involved in. So long as the story keeps on a path of careful escalation, your choices continue to matter and things don’t go down the route of something like Fahrenheit on the original Xbox (which saw you fighting hovering Mayan priests for no discernible reason in the latter stages of the game), Life Is Strange will be worth tuning in to for every episode.

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