Platform: PC [Reviewed], PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, Xbox One
Release Date: October 20, 2015
Price: $4.99 [Per episode]
Disclaimer: The following review may contain spoilers. Read at your own risk.
One of my favorite movies that I return to at least once a year is “Donnie Darko”. If you’ve never seen the film, it stars a younger Jake Gyllenhaal, a high high school teen who experiences a sling of traumatic experiences that are set into motion seemingly by chance. Heck, you might even recognize Seth Rogan as one of the bullies at his school. The movie centers around visions that Donnie has, avoiding a seemingly natural disaster, along with the potential possibilities of time travel in a certain capacity.
While not totally drawn from the same pool of thought, I feel that the weird happenings and special powers that Max Caulfield finds herself experiencing are similar to the decisions and finality Donnie comes across inside the walls of his own alternate reality experience. The unanswered question as to “how” or “why” the experience happens is simply left open in a kind of “is what it is” state. But, it also leaves a deeper sense of contemplation and reflection of it all.
After Life is Strange: Episode 4, I was eager to jump into the conclusion of the series, not to mention to find out what exactly was going on in Arcadia Bay. It seemed like each episode led to more uncertainty or guess as to where the story was going to be taken. And, with the ability to alter time, you are constantly questioning whether or not any experience was set in stone or had consequences that wouldn’t impact the next installment in the series. This was ever-present in the choices that had to be made in order to progress the game, often having the lesser-of-two-evils to be chosen and watching as the results unfold.
Even though this is primarily a review concerning Episode 5, I should say that Dontnod carried a sense of consistency in the latter part of the series. The fifth leg of the game seemed to run more briskly than the others in the series, but this was primarily due to more cinematic areas of the game and the experiences that played out. Limited conversation trees are found between characters, shuffling you on through. This is in comparison to the search and discovery areas present in other episodes, not having that much of a focus to end it.
The episode carries us past the startling discovery of Mr. Jefferson as the real killer behind it all. His initial introduction leads us to believe that he is more of a leader to Max and her talent of photography. Instead, he is the monster hiding in the shadows of acadamia, using deception to gain closer access to his victims.
Not only must you decipher who is good or bad, you must also navigate the psychological experience that is going on around you. This felt through decisions being made and the hallucinations (or are they?) that Max finds her mind engulfed in, trying to use powers at times until her nose bleeds out of extinguishing those powers.
I don’t think the game would have been the same if it had not been for the way in which it was told. Again, Telltale Games does have a firm grip on the story-driven decision genre, but Dontnod has done a more than sufficient job in closing in on the interactions that create the overall experience of being able to have emotions resonate with the person playing.
Throughout the entire experience of Life is Strange, the art-direction and soundtrack have played a synonymous role in painting the “big picture” experience of it all. Of course, what would a game of choices be if there wasn’t a dire choice to make at the end?
Without spoiling the closing to the game, there are instances where the visuals carried me to watch in awe as things transpired to close out the game. The music continuing to chime in and carry the feelings through the scene and into the next. This was something common through each episode, particularly concerning how one should feel after making a decision and being able to observe its consequences.
The Bottom Line
I was genuinely impressed with the overall turn out and conclusion of Life is Strange. There is a constant infatuation about “how” or “why” Max has gained these powers for time manipulation. Something that started to become more aware to me over the course of the game was not necessarily why these powers were here, but more so how her decisions impacted others, or the perfect storm that she could cause because of her manipulation of people. If digested on a much simpler scale, these things could be interpreted and applied to everyday life in the real world.
While I was critical in the early stages of Life is Strange, I can say that the story and its characters have grown on me. I completed the game in about 12-hours, which is plenty of time to run through each episode, but that doesn’t even come close to the time that you might go back and replay situations for the varied outcomes. In fact, that was the first thing I did when it came time to completing the game. I almost immediately jumped back in and played the last chapter again to see what other crucial choices delivered.
If you take Life is Strange for what it is, you will no doubt enjoy Max, Chloe, and the mysterious bindings on time Arcadia Bay has to offer.