For full disclosure, this is not necessarily a review, but I had such a wonderful time playing I would like to reflect just for a bit. I would like to reflect about some of the things that made Life Is Strange (LiS) one of the most entertaining episodic videogame since Telltale The Walking Dead. So what do I have to say after 20-25 hours of intense, jaw-dropping, and charming gameplay?
You play as Maxine (Max) Caufield, who, after five years moves back into her hometown, Arcadia Bay, to attend the prestigious art school, Blackwell Academy. Max loves photography and the game ensures to embrace that about her because she wields an analog camera that is a crucial component to the overall story. Max is an average person: she is not endowed with curves that make students take a second and lustful glance. She does not have exaggerated features or a high pitched tone of voice to hone in that she is a female. Max is the representation of a young woman who just wants to be herself and enjoy life. However, life is definitely not easy to traverse through in Arcadia Bay. After blacking out during the middle of day she wakes up and discovers she can rewind time. This is where the real fun begins.
After a nerve-racking incident in Blackwell, Max is picked up by her expressive best friend Chloe. Chloe is the embodiment of a young woman who cares very little about her well being and acts outlandish in order to detach herself from her emotions. Max and Chloe have the “realest” if not one the best friendships I have seen in a game. They help each other, despise each other at times, get into mischief, and ultimately try to bring the other side of their personalities out. Max is shy, but she does not mind having a conversation. Chloe is at times wild, but is willing to go the distance to uncover the truth.
I do not want to spoil much, but just know that Max and Chloe will go through some scary and confusing moments together. Moments in which you the player will have to decide what course of action Max should take. These decisions – among other choices – is what makes LiS, so awe-inspiring and poetic.
LiS usage of metaphors are at times hard to understand because of their meanings are not as simple as one may think. Arcadia Bay is next to…well a bay, so throughout all 5 chapters you hear or see whales washed ashore. At first, I thought nothing of them. I just thought, “Dang, that sucks” and kept moving. Through each subsequent chapter, more and more whales kept getting washed ashore. Oh yeah, I failed to mention that a giant storm is headed to Arcadia Bay! Naturally, I thought the looming approach of the storm was forcefully pushing these whales ashore. Other animals, such as birds, a very mystical deer, and a butterfly are all used to communicate or foreshadow what is to come. Each chapter has at least a few birds dead of the ground somewhere, of course representing that something bad is coming. The butterfly maybe a metaphor about the fragility of life or that a deceased person’s spirit carries on. Lastly, there is a deer! This very fleeting, standoffish, and very helpful deer appeared at the most random times during my play through. The deer awaits for Max to walk up towards it before it leaps off into a direction. Of course, as a perceptive gamer you will follow this deer, since there is no other option in sight. I need more time and a thorough discussion with my colleagues to fully grasp the purpose of this deer.
Lastly, the many actions, reactions, moments, and emotions that took place in LiS appeared to be quite genuine. I chalk this up to awesome writing because it truly is the heart and soul of the game. The art direction is that of Bioshock is which why this game seemed familiar to me. Bioshock is an intense and action packed game that has a very engaging and mind bending story to tell. LiS is the same, but it is grounded in reality with “time” being the driving force behind Max’s decision making.
I almost cried during this game, especially during the last chapter. At a certain part in the chapter, time and space warps your reality, which warps other realities, and so on. This game uses time to explain the shortcomings and heroism of humans. Existentialism is used as an overarching theme, but it is certainly utilized the most in the last chapter. The power of life and death, the power to correct wrongs, the power to move through space to avoid danger is a responsibility that I deem too great for any real person to have.
Invest yourself in this game and you will come out of every episode trying to piece things together. You will come out asking yourself “Was that the right decision to make?” It is okay to question yourself for Max questions herself as well. Life is weird, life is complex, life is dangerous, life is crazy, life is awesome, life is blissful, life is …strange!