I have a real affinity for works of fiction that find themselves entrenched in the everyday. Call me boring, but there’s something fascinating about slice of life works that isn’t apparent on the surface.
Monotonous routines, on paper, seem tedious, and school days are hardly exciting, but there’s a thing about our schedules that we rarely ever realize until we’re seeing the schedules of others. It’s rarely the life that’s boring, just the view upon it from the person whose eyes it’s seen from. My life seems dull to me at times, but downright enthralling to someone else, and what these works seek to do is capture the feeling of that life unlived through the eyes of a single individual.
The greatest stories are our own; we just don’t know that yet.
Life is Strange is a third person episodic graphic adventure game developed by Dontnod Entertainment. It follows Max Caulfield, an 18-year-old photography student who has only just recently returned to her hometown, and the strange life happenings that develop around her as she goes about her daily life.
The game begins in the Oregon woods, by a lighthouse, on a cliff, near a massive tornado, and as you, and as Max, stare out across it, you know something bad will follow. The tornado is merely an omen of what’s to come, but it thematically sets the tone that the school you’re in and the drama within it are merely small fish in comparison. That isn’t to say that the game dismisses these everyday occurrences, but rather it elevates them a level or two higher, thanks to a central mechanic.
Upon watching her childhood friend, Chloe, get shot in a school bathroom, Max discovers she has the ability to rewind time to a point that has recently past. I say recently because the rewind mechanic works in short intervals, allowing the alteration of a choice that was made five or ten minutes in the past, but not one that hours before has already been set in motion.
It’s a neat mechanic for an adventure game because of what the genre is built upon: the choices you make, the conversations you have, and the consequential fallout that follows the two. Where a game like The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us will have you make a decision quickly and move on from there, Life is Strange offers an alternative that feels new. It gives you the option to see both sides of a major decision before you have to make it, to foresee the consequences that will come from it later as best as you can at that moment.
Choose something, see what is presented, weigh the immediate reaction and move forward with it. Or rewind backward and choose the other one. Or go back again to the first one you chose. They’re all options you have and nice options at that.
That being said, once the choice is made and you’ve exited the area, it’s done. That’s it. Console someone or don’t, that decision has been made and the rest of the game will respond to you in kind. It gives your choices weight and makes the world mean something, which is good–because there’s a lot of meaning packed into this world.
For a small, pseudo indie title, there are loads of details, sweet moments and dramatic happenings arranged into this game. High school feels real, not because it reminds me of mine or because I grew up in an area that is similar, but because of the attention Dontnod paid the environment they developed. Walk down the halls and there are students talking, party posters hanging up, a kid getting bullied just around the corner from a teacher who is grading in their room. There are kids skateboarding outside, guys throwing a football, a boy sketching people under a tree–there’s life. People are living it, and while the game is scripted out into a linear narrative, it feels like every person here, every character in this story, has a life of their own, that they are living out on their own, as Max is wandering about them.
I do have some small grievances with the way the students are portrayed though, ones that detract from that feeling of complete immersion taking over entirely. The language used–the slang in particular–can feel corny at times, drenching sentences with awkward word combinations, seemingly to remind us that these still are teenagers and they are in high school. It isn’t bad and it doesn’t make me enjoy the game any less–if anything it creates a sort of charm that makes me chuckle the longer I play–but there could have been a little less of it in some spots or more careful attention placed on what words are used where so as to make it seem less awkward.
Everything considered, Life is Strange is a charming package. And while there are still three episodes left (two of which are already out and I haven’t even touched them yet), I can confidently say this is a title that shouldn’t be missed. Whether you’re an adventure fan, a story-driven narrative fan, a fan of the young adult or a fan of the melodramatic, there’s something here for everyone and that something is great–if not, at times, a little awkward.