Feels are Strange (Life is Strange Review)

Do you like FPS? Do you like fighting insane demons with mystical weapons?  How about roaming opening worlds leveling up a epic hero?  Well, too bad, none of that here.  Life is Strange is a healthy break from all those insane games, and brings us a in-depth story based game completely relying on the decisions you make.  This indie game will have you second guessing every decision you make, and will have you gasping at what happened because of those decisions. This story is riddled with mystery, suspense. and the feels!  So many feels, but we'll get to that. Here's a quick summary of this game before we jump into the nitty gritty of this game.

 Life is Strange revolves around a little hipster photographer girl named Max.  She transfers back to her hometown, a little harbor town in Oregon called Arcadia Bay, to go to the prestigious art school of Blackwell.  One day she has a strange dream about a massive tornado completely destroying the town, and quickly wakes up in her classroom.  Being disturbed by how real the dream felt, and being a little hipster, she decides to go hide out in the bathroom.  While in there the big rich kid comes in spouting some crazy things.  Max watches as a blue haired girl comes in as well, and starts to get in a heated argument with the rich kid.  All the sudden the rich kid pulls out a gun on the blue haired girl.  Max tried to jump out to stop it from happening, but as the shot was fired, everything rewinds around Max and she is back in the classroom.  Somehow Max had traveled back in time.   She ends up testing this ability, and then decides to go save the girl from the bathroom.  From here on Max decides to use her new ability to stop the tornado from destroying Arcadia Bay.

Now being a review I will probably be dropping a few spoilers, but I'll try my best not to.  Well let's go ahead and jump right in with the Good, the Bad, and the Ugly.

To change it up, we'll start with the Ugly.   Now I played this game on PS4, which was probably a mistake.  This game was made by Unreal Engine, so this is one of the few games I will say should have been played on a PC that could handle the graphics.  But saying that, the animation of the characters was very choppy.  It was very reminiscing of early PS3 characters, where they tried to make game play look like cut-scene graphics, which back fired on them in this game.  Now granted it's a indie game, so it does get a little grace on the quality due to budgets, however that doesn't excuse the speaking scenes being off.  Since the characters were so choppy, a lot of times the characters would be talking, and their mouths wouldn't even be moving.  Other times their mouths were moving so much it was as if I was watching an old foreign dub movie where the dub was obviously timed wrong.

Besides the mouth, the backgrounds were very "MS Paint".  For those that don't get that reference, basically the backgrounds were very mono chromatic.  For a game about an art student, in an art school, the backgrounds were very bland.  Now granted they wanted to set the mood with the monochrome colors, however since the graphics were substandard, the colors made the background look as if they literally used the paint bucket to fill the grass with green, or the sky with blue.  

One of the funniest choppiness, was with the characters' hair.  Due to the cell shading, the characters hair looked like play-do more than it did hair.  Because of this, whenever the main character "brushed the hair out of her face" it looked very awkward as her hand hovered over her face, but never actually touching her face.

Now what was Bad about this game?  Not too much really, except the whole concept of the game!  The game starts up with a disclaimer pinting:

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Except none of your decisions really matter in the long run.  The decisions in the game do affect you during the game, like getting information, saving people, and stuff like that.  However the story stays on track no matter what you choose.   Which really makes you feel like "Why was I so worried about my decisions?"  

The characters as well are very cookie cutter.  Almost as if they took them out of Dawson's Creek.  You have the rich kid whose parents own everything, the rich girl with her posse, the geeky kid, the jocks, the skaters, the hipsters, and so on.  There wasn't really any originality with picking the characters.

If the decisions don't matter, how could this game be Good?  It's all about the ride with this game.  The story is so intriguing, and the mysteries really pull you into the story.  It's basically like a long road trip. You can choose different routes to take, you can make different stops, or even backtrack a little, but you will always end up at your destination.  That's what this game is.  It's takes you on a wild, emotional ride from beginning to end.  

Every decision you make feels like the most important decision you'll make, and that's where one of the cool mechanics comes into play, rewind power.  With Max's power, you can pick a decision, and if you don't like their reaction, you just rewind and try again.  This allows you to Groundhog's Day the different people in the game, by learning stuff, rewind, and then tell them stuff you shouldn't know about them.  Which will lead to other decisions you can make, or learn more information.  This mechanic was a lot of fun, but came with making you second guess if your decision was right or not.

We talked about how the characters were very "cookie cutter", however the story really makes you care about them.  The characters are presented in a way that even though they fit the certain troupe, they feel more real or down to earth.  They really feel as if they were real people, rather than just characters.  Which in turn plays into why you get so invested into the decisions you make.

One of the biggest things that makes you love this game is the relationship between Max and Chloe.  In most games or even shows, girl relationships always feel almost "valley girl" or "sorority sister", and if they try to go for emotional, it just comes across as whiny.  However these two feel like real life girl friends.  None of that sissy conversations you see in movies and shows, but true discussions about real life situations and getting pissed at each other life real friends will do.  This is probably one of the best things about the game, and really had me drawn in to what was going to happen around them.

Overall I would rate this game a 9 out of 10.  This game really fits the great story aspect we have been hoping for in video games.  The only point I would take off is for when you get to the end.   This game is meant to be that your decisions matter, but it really only comes down to 2 decisions at the end.  Everything leads to this point, so none of your decisions will affect this last decision.  But with the great story, and fun rewind mechanic, this is a game I would play again just to try out different decisions.

~ Stephen Vargo
Show Runner

Stephen Vargo

Host of the podcast The One Where We Talk Anime