Back in 2013, a French video game studio called DONTNOD Entertainment partnered up with the legendary publisher Capcom to release a title known as Remember Me. At the time, I was intrigued about the game and its mechanic of delving into your target’s memories and rewriting them to your advantage. However, I never got the chance to play it and heard several reviews that implied the game wasn’t everything it was cracked up to be.
Fortunately, early this year, I was given a second chance to see DONTNOD Entertainment’s work for myself, based on another highly-publicized game with a clever game mechanic. This game is a five-part puzzle and interactive drama game called Life is Strange.
The game follows a schoolgirl and aspiring photographer named Max Caulfield, who has returned to her hometown of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, to finish up her education at Blackwell Academy. However, a deadly encounter with her former best friend and the most popular guy in school leads to Max discovering that she has spontaneously developed the power to reverse the last few minutes of time and alter the course of the future. While trying to figure out what this power entails, Max also navigates her social group, trying to reconnect with her friend Chloe, learn more about the missing girl Rachel Amber, and deal with her visions of a massive storm heading for Arcadia Bay.
So what does the first episode of Life is Strange have to offer?
- Beautiful designs. Much like the game Gone Home, this game features a very in-depth environment to explore, with numerous details and Easter eggs worthy of one or two replays. However, Life is Strange has far more outdoor scenery to behold, from amazing golden sunsets in the woods to a very dramatic and well-drawn tornado off the coast.
- A very nice game mechanic. Being able to control time is nothing new in video games, especially in well-known titles like Braid. Of course, Life is Strange is unique in that it throws a time-reversing mechanic in what seems like a Gone Home clone. You can use Max’s ability to set up elaborate pranks, save innocent kids from being bullied or hurt, gain information that you didn’t have when questioned before, and improve your relationship with supporting characters like Chloe, Kate, and Victoria.
- Immersion in the modern day. Most writers and storytellers tend to show a world closer to their own childhood than the contemporary age, so attitudes and technology are usually a step behind. This is definitely not the case in Life is Strange. From ubiquitous iPhones to a high school private security team led by a veteran of a recent US-led war, this game’s setting is grounded in the present age in a very believable sense.
- Some recurring glitches and stalling. It might not be as big an issue for other gamers, but I found that some of the fluid animation didn’t work as well on my end. It was a little amusing to hear characters give serious dialogue, only for it to skip on the same syllable and give them a stutter. However, I was having trouble with some of the in-game choices as I couldn’t always get my mouse to focus what I wanted, like the option to take a photo or to talk to a friend.
- A very hipster-oriented worldview. As much as I enjoyed this game, I couldn’t help but feel like the game itself was being catered to a very specific experience. Our main character lives in the Pacific Northwest, enjoys obscure authors, listens to folk guitar melodies on vinyl records, and is trying to find herself as an artist through her photography class. If that’s your thing, then you’re welcome to it, but it’s not the kind of teenage experience I went through, so I don’t relate to that world as easily (I was more of a Star Wars novel-devouring, Beatles and Pink Floyd kind of guy in high school if you must know).
Overall, I liked the first installment of Life is Strange. It’s a short and simple playthrough with a gorgeous setting and a simple but effective rewind-button mechanic. I enjoyed the evening I spent playing through Episode One and look forward to continuing Max and Chloe’s journey in the near-future.
Bibliography: Life is Strange, Episode 1: Chrysalis. Developed by DONTNOD Entertainment. Published by Square Enix. Directed by Raoul Barbet and Michel Koch. Produced by Luc Baghadoust. Designed by Baptiste Moisan, Sebastien Judit, and Sebastien Gaillard. Art by Amaury Balandier. Written by Christian Divine. Unreal Engine 3 (engine). Microsoft Windows; PlayStation 3, Playstation 4; Xbox One, Xbox 360. Original release date: January 30, 2015.