Sunday, 24 January 2016

Life Is Strange (2015) Game Review

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All of us have, at some point in our lives, done something really stupid, regretted it immediately, and wished we could go back to change whatever idiocy we just committed. Life is Strange takes that daydream to a whole new level. Like, shit gets REAL. Episode one, you kind of think, “This is nice.” By episode five you’re pulling your hair out, wishing for someone to tell YOU what to do because your mind has turned to mush from making really important decisions that 90% of the time turn out to be completely horrific choices for the good of your friends, self, town, college, etc. The consequences of your seemingly innocent actions, whether something small like taking a photo or having a conversation with someone, can affect the game in a plethora of different ways you can’t even begin to imagine while you’re playing. The great thing about this game is not only do you get the power of hindsight during the game, as in you can rewind time and change your mind most of the time, you also get to reflect on the decisions you’ve made at the end of each episode where you find out exact percentages of how your selections match up to all other players’. The comparison can be fun when it shows overwhelming percentages of people all choosing to do the same thing you did, or exciting when you’re in a tiny minority of people to do something different.

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The characters of the game really bring it to life, especially the two main protagonists Max, our playable “time warrior” character, and Chloe, her bad-ass sidekick who arguably the story really revolves around. Their character arcs and how they weave in and out of the stories of other characters is well thought out to the point of being TV show or movie standard. As in, not like typical averagely written games with a mediocre plot featuring a few feeble, annoying, stereotyped characters. It's good also that the developers didn't bow down to the pressure of making Max male because it's refreshing to see a lead female protagonist who is strong but not annoying and who does have flaws. I think it brings more palpable emotion into the game, too. It really works. The voice actors are good but honestly Max’s voice is quite annoying. Not only does she look about fourteen, her voice sounds like a young emo teenager. Considering your actions range from bitchy to angelic, the way the character is handled as a complete, rounded person and not just an empty shell for the player to project themselves into is very impressive. The characters are believable too, in the way you wouldn’t be surprised to bump into them near your own hometown’s university. Well, minus the whole time travelling thing.


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However, my biggest complaint about the whole series (well, second biggest, but we’ll get to that); the DIALOGUE. THE GODDAMN DIALOGUE. It’s so bad. Like, while you’re reading the subtitles you kind of want to grab a spoon and scoop your own eyeballs out to refrain from exposing yourself to the poorly written things the characters come out with. I mean, the amount of times the word "shit" is used in order to be edgy, or "hella" for some reason I can't even gather, is frankly embarrassing. Max is a reflection of you and sometimes you want to shove the words coming out of her mouth back in, they're so contrived. Hella shit. It's like a GCSE attempt at writing as someone a few years older than themselves in university. I assumed, because the developers are French, that there must be some old school Google translate type of shit going on for it to achieve such high levels of atrocity. Nope. From what I understand the developers wrote the script in French, and handed it to an English “writer” to perfect as an American/English script. But it’s not natural to speak how they do, and it’s really jarring as a player when the whole focus of the game is on characterisation. It’s passable because of how great the game is and the actors manage to salvage it slightly, so you’re kind of willing to laugh it off and continue with the story but really it’s inexcusable to allow stilted, cheesy dialogue that bad into a game of such a high calibre in nearly every other aspect. A good writer was all that was needed to completely sort that issue out. 

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The episodic formula to the game, though it was originally decided upon for financial reasons, actually works really well for LiS. Making this into one big game would be restrictive and kind of like trying to shove a ten episode TV series into a three hour film. It would be rushed and unsatisfying. This way, the storyline has room to flow naturally and grow at a steady and easily digestible way. We get to emotionally connect with all the characters and Arcadia Bay as a whole at a pace that doesn’t feel forced. The concept of this game is really top notch. Though the rewinding time device can be a little frustrating when you change your mind and have to sit through the dialogue again (admittedly at a faster pace, but still) multiple times depending on the severity of the choice, it can definitely get a bit boring. I feel they executed the time reversal well though, and it is a unique and effective technique to give the game a fresh spin that others could do with emulating. It was nice to play something that didn’t rely on violence, to engage your brain and think outside of the box to complete challenges using your powers. The quests were very well done to be at a level that pushed your capabilities enough to be challenging and at times frustrating but stay fun and never become tedious. Well, until the episode that shall not be named... (for a few paragraphs at least).

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Artistically, this game is beautiful. The hand drawn scenes make each setting picturesque and the graphics well exceeded my expectations for a relatively low budget game. It had its own idiosyncratic style without being too out there. It was warm and inviting and felt familiar from the moment you press play. It was enjoyable to look at as the game went on, and definitely quite a nice break from the bleak greyness that is Fallout 4. The soundtrack, as many will confirm, was completely on point at all times. The folksy, indie music really fitted the whole spirit of the game and took the game to a new level. I honestly think the music for LiS is what makes it so memorable and spectacular. The music lingers with you and every time the opening track plays it makes you want to replay the whole thing. If only we all had that many hours to spare.

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And now it’s time to talk about episode five. I’m sorry. I’ll make it quick. It is by far the most polarising (see what I did there?) episode of them all and no one can ever agree on whether it was the best, most emotional ending to a story ever, or a totally restrictive cop-out. In my opinion, it seemed like all the options you’d lovingly made from episode one were obsolete and you were basically told, “Forget all that! We’re in the here and now. We won’t tie up all of our loose ends, but we will give you this...” and there you have it. Two huge options that actually are meaningless because you are pushed into one or the other. The game nosedived from being an expansive web of decision making, fretting, changing your mind, trying to predict the future... to a completely linear plot, topped off by a measly two options. What the hell, man. I was so disappointed. Lots of people enjoyed it and felt it was the perfect final stop on the feels train but I wasn’t one of them. I have read that this was down to the fact the developers had gone waaaay over budget for episode four (you can tell the difference in effort between four and five) and had to quickly rush five because of A. Lack of interest, and B. Lack of funding. Not a good combo for a videogame, and also kind of tragic that little did they know how much this game would blow up and justify their time and money. I’m still hoping they’ll remake five and re-release it but that’s kind of like wishing for a conclusive answer in Making a Murderer. Not gonna happen!

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Overall this game deserves every scrap of hype it’s managed to acquire and it is certainly a game everyone should play just to try something new and exciting. Not much can be faulted but a few small things do let it down. (Episode five, we’re all looking at you.) If you’re undecided about the £15 it costs to download the series, don’t be. It’s completely worth your money. Do it. You can thank me later.

8.5/10


Here's the official trailer: