Life is Strange (Episode One) review: If I could turn back time ...
A KOOKY episodic adventure, Life is Strange works hard to prove its credentials as a meaningful exploration of teen angst.
Life is Strange (Episode One) (XOne/PS4/PC/X360/PS3); rating: 8/10; age: 16+
Developer Dontnod’s last outing Remember Me tinkered playfully with time as a moveable cog in an unfolding sci-fi yarn. Dontnod was obviously so taken with the notion of mutable moments that the whole story of Life is Strange is built on the shifting sands of time.
Max Caulfield – a nod to Catcher in the Rye’s Holden Caulfield, perhaps? – returns to her home town to start university but things have changed since she moved away and she has trouble fitting in. Her awkwardness as she navigates the bitchy hierarchy of college is deftly sketched. Dontnod blends achingly hip dialogue with a soundtrack of shoegazing tunes commissioned specially for the game.
Then Max she discovers – like you do – that she can rewind time (almost) at will, easily reversing everything from botched social interaction to contentious or dangerous behaviour.
Yes, we’re in the realm of Telltale-style morality adventures here, with many conversations bookended by a notification such as “X will remember that” or “Your action will have consequences”. The difference here is that you can easily reset the last few minutes, retaining the knowledge of the future and sometimes the objects you earned.
What stops this mechanic from becoming a game-ruining cheat is that few decisions have an obvious binary outcome – Max will often regret all of the multiple choices she makes, save perhaps for the opening one where she undoes the shooting of a fellow student.
Such time-bending works as an experimental plot device more so than a means to solve puzzles. In fact, most of Life is Strange’s first episode is understandably concerned with setting up the familiar cast of characters – jocks, rich kids, nerds and surly adults. The only one who doesn’t ring true is Max’s childhood friend Chloe, a seething mess of daddy issues.
This debut episode does enough to hint at deeper conflicts to come in later instalments, which hopefully will inspire drippy Max to greater agency.
You to admire Dontnod for a courageous attempt to break out of gaming’s stereotypes and give us something only rarely touched on elsewhere. A few gamey contrivances seep in at times but there's a real effort to tell a story in a fresh way.