Thursday, 5 October 2017

Review No. 133 Life is Strange - PC (16+)

Strong Points:
Superb voice acting
Nice art style
Choices that matter, and impact across all episodes
You can see how your choices stack up against others at the end of each chapter
Time travelling mechanics allow for interesting puzzles...
...As well as the chance to correct mistakes
Believable characters who are developed over time
Some surprising twists and turns
Great soundtrack

Weak Points:
Lip sync issues lose immersion
Art style sometimes comes in the way of detail
The pace can be slow
Not all questions are answered
This all happened in a week?

Note: as this game is episodic in nature I will also be giving mini-reviews and ratings to each episode as well as more general points

Spoilers ahead!:

In-depth Review:

Release Dates:
Episode 1:
World Wide: January 30th, 2015
Episode 2:
World Wide: March 24th, 2015
Episode 3:
World Wide: May 19th, 2015
Episode 4:
World Wide: July 28th, 2015
Episode 5:
World Wide: October 25th, 2015

WASD: movement
Left Mouse Button (hold): select action/(press)select menus
Right Mouse Button (hold): rewind
Mouse: move camera
Middle Mouse Button: recentre camera
Tab: open journal
Space: skip previously watched scene
Shift: walk faster/rewind faster

Life is Strange is a game that quietly brings you into its world and with its characters. It affects you without you really realising it until the end, when you sit back and think about all the choices you made. Some are instantly game-changing, some influence character reactions, some simply allow you to grab a photo. I'll make one thing clear though, none of them are insignificant to the experience.

You play as Max Caulfield, an 18-year-old photography student who realises she has time-travelling powers. Quite at ends with the otherwise 'realistic setting' of the school, but the time travelling helps to add an extra dimension to the Make Your Own Story genre. At its most basic, the time-travelling allows you to change a choice you had earlier on, allowing you to test the waters of a choice before making your final decision. Be warned though, as some choices have consequences a lot further ahead in your journey, and you can't rewind time too far. This adds a nice risk system, as you balance a short-term change with the potential for a large long-term change.

The art style of Life is Strange is contradictory to the game's content, although not necessarily in a bad way. In a game which is constantly talking about photos, to have everything look painted seems odd. It works, for the most part, being both memorable and able to carry emotion. The two stumbling blocks are when it has to portray the aforementioned photos (leaving out details like faces) and when characters are talking. You see, lip-syncing is an issue in this game. It doesn't necessarily break your immersion but it certainly weakens it, especially when the characters lips hardly move.

This lip-syncing issue means the voice actors have to work harder, and they definitely rose to the challenge. To be able to convey such varied emotions without the realistic animation of say, Uncharted, is incredibly impressive. Particular mention has to go to Hannah Telle and Ashley Burch. They played Max and Chloe respectively, and without them, the story wouldn't have been anywhere near as interesting.

The soundtrack of Life is Strange hits a balance between background noise and lyrical accompaniments quite nicely. It's normally represented in-game, be it via a speaker or earphones, adding to the realistic nature of the game. It also allows you to turn them off, handy for a YouTube series! Overall, I really enjoyed just sitting and listening to the soundtrack in one of the main 'reflective points' dotted around. They also do something clever with the music later on, which I won't spoil here.

Get ready to walk around slowly and listen to a lot. While slightly more exciting than it sounds, if you don't like dialogue then this game probably isn't for you, because there is a lot of it. Especially, as with the time-travelling mechanic, you can rewind to open up more options or listen to all versions of a story. There's also some light puzzle elements which I quite enjoyed and helped to break up the game a bit.

So, Episode 1: Chrysalis starts with a vision of the endgame. Or is it? Technically, both yes and no but that's beside the point - we start with the vision of a storm. A storm which could rip the entirety of Arcadia apart. Max has bigger problems, however, as she was daydreaming and has now been asked a question. That's what I like about the game - it treats the personal problems of a teenager, which might be seen as small and unimportant by others, as high in the priority list as saving the world. Episode 1 basically concerns itself with being a big tutorial, and it succeeds on that front. The ending saves it from being entirely 'realistic setting' however, as you dodge boulders using your time powers to climb up to the lighthouse.

Episode 2: Out of Time is where things start to get interesting in both the 'realistic setting' and 'saving the world' departments. Besides talking to people and making choices a la the main point of the game, there's also a bottle collecting puzzle section and some parts which will require you to remember information. Or write it down, your choice. Overall, I enjoyed Episode 2, and it was nice to see some choices already having consequences. Also, that end scene (which I won't spoil here) was amazing.

Episode 3: Chaos Theory is saved by the end couple of minutes. Suddenly the game shows you the true consequence of your actions, and it's scary. The rest.... Is all right. I mean, there's some nice development of the headmaster, Warren and other characters but it's very much the middle episode. That being said, the end more than makes up for it.

Episode 4: Dark Room is the longest episode in Life is Strange and has the most story strands. Besides the shocking end twist, we also had the incomprehensible choice Max had at the beginning with Chloe, which was still affecting, even if it was quickly undone. The middle section in comparison was a bit... Meh, really. I mean, we had some good puzzle sections with trying to match up clues and open doors, but really, we were just waiting for something to happen. Although when it eventually did, it wasn't quite what I was expecting.

Wow. Episode 5: Polarized is the pinnacle of Life is Strange, with all your choices coming to fruition. This isn't to say there are dozens of endings, quite the contrary in fact, with there being only two main ones. However, the lead up does change depending on your choices, and will definitely impact your final one. A mention has to be given for the dream sequence at the end as well, for the stellar sound and visual design. It's incredibly difficult to finish a choice based game like this, (look at Mass Effect 3 as an example) and while some bits did fall flat or get caught up by the end, overall I do believe the finale did the game justice. And that's even with the multiple realities!

Episode 1: 80%
Episode 2: 86%
Episode 3: 84%
Episode 4: 82%
Episode 5: 90%
Overall Rating: 92%

P.S. I completed this game over on the YouTube channel if you want to check it out!
P.S.S While I've tried to avoid major spoilers in this review, I can do a commentary on my choices if wanted. Let me know in the comments!

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