Life is Strange Episode 1: Chrysalis
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Platforms: PC (Reviewed), PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Release Date: January 29th, 2015
Price: $7.99 AU/$4.99 US– Available On Steam, PlayStation Store, Xbox Live
Dontnod (most famous for creating Remember Me) are quickly becoming known for creating interesting stories involving strong female protagonist, and their latest title follows suit, centering around shy photography student Max Caulfield who has just started at a prestigious photography academy to follow her passion.While Remember Me placed you in the futuristic dystopia of Neo Paris, Life is Strange put’s you in an equally unsettling yet familiar setting, High School. Does Episode 1 of this five part story manage to ‘capture’ your interest or does it need a little more time to ‘develop’? Read on for our full review.
No more photography puns I promise. Our main protagonist Max Caulfied has just moved back to her home town of Arcadia Bay in Oregon to attend the best photography academy in the country. The academy is full of young students, all who seem to have their own classic teenage issues such as drugs, peer pressure etc. I won’t go into detail here as to not spoil any of the story, but the conflicts between other students, yourself and those students and Max’s own inner struggles make for an interesting plot full of drama. The pacing is very well done, with a great mix of peaceful lulls and more intense moments.
A missing girl called Rachel who was very popular around town is the focus of the games primary side story. The constant missing posters and effects that Rachel has had on a lot of the students does manage to intrigue your interest. While this first episode doesn’t go to deep into her disappearance, you can tell this will be a big plot point during one of the future four episodes, especially with some of the later revelations. The Rachel subplot and the revelation of Max’s time control powers bring an element of mystery to Episode 1 that aids in expanding on the story of this small town and helps the game shy away from being a re-imagining of Mean Girls crossed with Degrassi.
Max has just turned 18 but the characters you encounter including Max all seem to be about two to three grades younger with their dialogue and very ‘clicky’ personalities. All your high school stereotypes are here. The jocks who wear their collegiate jackets and bully the nerds, the quiet girl who keeps to herself, the emo kid, the prissy rich kid and the mean rich girl complete with her two underlings who only exist to praise their queen. Despite this, characters are all pretty fleshed out and all have their own agenda making them feel like real people. The games writing is normally pretty spot on, however you will find some oddities in character’s personalities and language that will make you question if the character is really like that or the writers (who probably aren’t teenage girls) just misunderstood a phrase.
A fantastic edition to Life is Strange is all the optional story you can read up on through text messages, diary entries and character biographies. The game does a great job at providing you with the necessary information to understand the main story upfront, but for those who are interested in really delving into character histories and past events and Max’s thoughts on everything you can do just that. The journal is presented in this cool scrapbook style, really making it feel like an art students diary. If you look carefully through the journal and the world you will notice heaps of small references to pop culture, particularly video games. I myself found a Pokemon and Super Mario reference which was fun to see.
Life is Strange will rightfully have many people drawing comparisons between itself and Telltale games, as well as titles like Heavy Rain and Beyond: Two Souls. Life is Strange and those games are for the most part very similar, perhaps being more similar to the latter titles as you can freely move around your environment.While you search the environment there are heaps of things you can look at and interact with, all accompanied with some inner thought dialogue from Max.
You make choices from up to four options in conversations (normally just two), some of which look like they will have a major impact on the story. Some do have slight repercussions immediately within Episode 1 but it feels like many of these will have heavier consequences within the coming chapters. These decisions do feel important and I struggled with some of them for up to 30 seconds before making my choice. It’s always fun pulling the strings in a game and the choices presented do a great job at making you feel like you have great control over Max and can invest your own personality and responses into her, making the story your own. There are also a lot of smaller decisions to make that will reward you with additional pieces of dialogue that aren’t wholly important but cause characters to react and show more of their personality.
Early on in the story, our protagonist Max discovers her unique supernatural ability, the ability to rewind time. This is used to solve puzzles all of which require some thinking on behalf of the player but are aided from a few hints from Max’s thoughts. The puzzles fit seamlessly into the world around you and require some literal thinking, with most requiring you to work out the correct order in which to carry out your actions. There is no limit to the amount of times you can rewind time so you can try many different ways of coming up with a solution. This fits the game perfectly and avoids things like game over screens whilst taking away any form of punishment for those who are a little slow in solving these puzzles.
The time functionality has been implemented excellently by Dontnod and is a strong point of Life is Strange. It is not only used to solve puzzles but allows players to reverse decisions they may wish to take back (permitted they don’t leave the area). People that love to see every possible dialogue option play out will loves this feature. If you do rewind through a conversation, next time you have that conversation you can simply use the skip button so you don’t have to listen to the same line again. Another nice touch is an auto rewind for your most recent function you can activate with a simple button press.
My only gripe with the whole system is that there is no way to cancel the last function I mentioned if you press the button by mistake which happened on a few instances as I was still getting used to the controls. There are also some times where you can’t use the rewind function where it feels like you should be able to, which takes away a bit of the control you feel you have over the game which is unfortunate.
The visuals in this game are kind of like a 3D water colour painting with lot’s of soft tones and visible brush strokes. It looks great and details on characters and the environment are impressive for an art style that appears simplistic on the surface. Homes and bedrooms in particular are incredibly detailed and really resemble what a teenage girls room would look like. PC has plenty of options for visual settings and my version suffered no frame rate drops except in the ending sequence where the whole scene seemed to be rendered in 30FPS as opposed to 60FPS.
The interface is very clean and has this whole ‘Juno’ feel to it for those familiar with the film. White squiggly line drawings pop up to represent objects you can interact with and also when the game is saving or you have made a consequential decision. When you perform a rewind the visual effects used are really powerful, user friendly and aren’t slow or clumsy. The same can be said about performing a fast rewind or skip and put polish on the already near perfect time control system. The freedom of the camera movement is fun to play with and allows you to set up screenshots in lieu of a proper photo mode which seems like an odd omission for a game based around a photography student.
One big negative that is not easy to overlook however is the lip syncing. This is an issue in a game with a lot of dialogue where the camera is focused on someone’s face a lot of the time and it doesn’t stand up to the standard set by similar story based titles such as Heavy Rain.
The game doesn’t have a big soundtrack, with most of the games music being diegetic and playing through headphones or a CD player. I mentioned Juno as a reference before and the audio here also takes some inspiration from the film, with the indie acoustic songs heard here giving off a pleasant, relaxing vibe that compliments the game perfectly.
The voice acting is really good for the most part, with lines delivered well and character’s voices matching their personality from the shy Max to the hard ass veteran security guard. No sound effects are out of place and complete the wonderfully detailed world. There is a tendency for music to randomly stop playing for a short while during room transitions which is a little jarring, but apart from that there are no major technical issues.
Episode 1 is a great introduction to the world of Life is Strange. The drama filled high school setting sets up an interesting story filled with fleshed out characters and the option to read up on back story is much appreciated. The influence you have over Max’s dialogue and actions feels meaningful and the excellent time travel mechanics add some nice challenge and variety to the game. The wonderfully detailed world is represented beautifully by a unique graphical style and the soundtrack compliments the visuals perfectly. A few small technical issues and bad lip syncing aside, if you enjoy story based games with heaps of drama and an air of mystery, Life is Strange is a game you should definitely snap up.
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