Have you ever had a moment where you were spoilt with choices, but couldn’t decide what you wanted? What if you had the power to rewind time and correct the mistakes of the past, only to find that it caused more harm than good and you were left second-guessing yourself afterwards? This is what Life is Strange is built upon: showing us that time is not something that can be taken lightly and that the choices we make can have serious consequences in the future.
The player takes on the role of Max Caulfield; an 18 year old teenage girl attending Blackwell Academy, a prestigious high school in Arcadia Bay. When we first meet Max we could describe her as shy, introverted and a hipster. Max loves photography and is mostly seen taking photos with her Polaroid camera. As the game begins we find Max lying on the ground near the Arcadia Bay lighthouse while a giant storm is taking place. Suddenly we are transported to a photography classroom with no explanation as to what the storm is about (this becomes apparent later in the game). After class Max heads to the bathroom to wash her face. Soon she hears someone coming into the bathroom, a boy named Nathan Prescott, the son of the richest family in Arcadia Bay. A girl then enters the bathroom with him and it seems that she is blackmailing him. Nathan then takes out a gun and shoots her. Max suddenly jumps out from behind one of the stalls and time soon starts to rewind itself. Max is then transported back into the photography class and is shocked that events are replaying itself. She then discovers that she has the power to reverse time. It is later revealed that the girl she saved in the bathroom is Chloe Price, her childhood friend.
There is more to Arcadia Bay than what it seems. On the outside it looks like a tranquil, nostalgic and peaceful town, but on the inside there are dark secrets yet to be discovered. Underlying the game’s narrative is the disappearance of a girl named Rachel Amber. Through the events that Max encounters, she is inexplicably drawn to finding out what happened to Rachel. It is up to the player to decide for themselves what happens in the story and how the mystery gets solved.
What sets Life is Strange apart from other choice-driven games is that the choices you make hold much more emotional weight. Because you are able to rewind time, you can replay an event and choose the other option if you wish. The game, however, deliberately makes you second guess yourself. After you’ve made a choice Max reflects on what happened, sometimes doubting her choices. Once you’ve made your choice you can leave the area and the story continues. There is no right or wrong choice in the game; everything is based on what you feel is the best option. Some choices have long or short term effects to the story and you see the consequences of your actions take place through character dialogue as well as events that happen later in the game.
What I loved about this game is how it handles taboo topics. Episode 2, for example, deals with bullying and depression and at one point you need to try and talk down the person from committing suicide. It’s one of the game’s most emotionally charged sequences and it really hits home on some of the realities that we face in our everyday lives. The soundtrack is absolutely amazing and truly adds and reflects the game’s mood and pacing. You cannot help but feel a sense of nostalgia while listening to it, taking you back to peaceful, calmer days. The game takes its time developing the story, opting for a more slow-paced narrative. This works to the game’s advantage as it allows you to explore and interact with the world around you. The game also rewards you for taking your time by giving you achievements every time you find a certain object that Max can take a photo of. There are also various pop culture references that appear in the game. The game definitely has a Twin Peaks vibe to it, even referencing it on a number plate. Other notable references that appear in the game include Scarface, Carrie and Donnie Darko.
Overall, Life is Strange is a game I wish I could replay as though I am experiencing it for the first time again. You become so drawn into the game’s world that once it’s all over you’ll feel as though something is missing from your life. The character development is well done, with no characters feeling one dimensional. Each character is complex in their own unique way so you cannot always take them at face value. Because you can reverse time, you are given the opportunity to reflect on your actions and possibly change them before moving on. The climax of the game is heartbreaking, depending on what choice you make at the end. Life is Strange is not your typical high school story. Sure, it deals with the many challenges that come with being a teenager, but it also encourages us to make the right choices and that time is something that we cannot take lightly. I feel that everyone needs to play this game and I highly recommend that you do so whenever you get the chance. You will not be disappointed.