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Life is Strange : Episode 1 (Xbox One) Review

 
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At A Glance...
 

Formats: PC, Xbox One, PS4, PS3, Xbox 360
 
Genre:
 
Year:
 
Publisher:
 
Developer:
 
Final Score
7.0
7/ 10


User Rating
no ratings yet

 

We Liked?


  • Rewind feature is well used and adds an interesting mechanic
  • An interesting protagonist with an intriguing story to tell
  • A real kernel of promise

Not So Much?


  • - Poor voice acting
  • Far too much teen angst
  • Poorly scripted and clichéd dialogue


Final Fiendish Feelings?

Life is Strange is really trying to get your attention.  It strives for a level of intellectual depth that few attempt.  The game almost drips hipster angst…. And therein lies a lot of its issues. In this first episode of DOTNOD’s point and click adventure series you step in to the life of Maxine Caulfield.  […]

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Posted February 11, 2015 by

 
Final Fiendish Feelings?
 
 

Life is Strange is really trying to get your attention.  It strives for a level of intellectual depth that few attempt.  The game almost drips hipster angst…. And therein lies a lot of its issues.

In this first episode of DOTNOD’s point and click adventure series you step in to the life of Maxine Caulfield.  Max is a student (this is a tale set firmly in the bosom of American culture) studying to become a photographer at the prestigious Blackwell Academy. A seemingly average girl with a gift for capturing the world through the lens of her much loved Polaroid instant camera.

Starting the game whilst taking an average photography class you get to grips with Max and the way she thinks.  There’s her hipster-laden inner monologue, peppered with self-doubt and rich in teenage TV show angst, as well as a full diary of information she has about herself and the people you meet about town.

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Just as you’re contemplating what you might have let yourself in for you move out of the classroom environment and make your way through the halls of the school – some might have seen this segment in part in some of the earlier reveal trailers for Life is Strange.  After your stylish stroll through the halls you head in to the bathroom and here, thankfully, the game picks up.

Max is witness to a heated exchange between two students, resulting in one pulling a gun.  A scuffle breaks out and a young woman is shot in the stomach.  Max reacts in horror to the situation and suddenly finds herself back in the classroom… five minutes before she witnessed the shooting in the bathroom… you see Max can seemingly rewind time at her discretion.

This unique time rewinding mechanic is used to great effect in several ways.  Firstly it’s used to manipulate and solve some simple puzzle situations.  Pick up object A or tamper with object B, rewind time and use said object or wait for consequence of tampering.  That sort of thing.

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The other way is to allow you to revisit a decision you’ve just made.  Say you failed to step in and help someone against a bully.  Then you realise you really want to change your mind.  Simply rewind back a few minutes of game time and choose the other path.  It’s a neat trick on the choice/consequence offerings from people like Telltale and Quantic Dreams.

What’s unclear at this point is whether these actions will have any lasting ramifications.  You obviously see a few ripples of your actions in this episode but with luck this is something DONTNOD will deal with over the coming series.  Some form of cause and effect for when Max uses these abilities would be interesting to see unfold.

Graphically the game is well lit.  Lots of soft focus and rich tones give the game a certain unique look and style.  Animation is a step above what Telltale put in with their current series (a bug-bear of mine for years now) but the character originality leaves something to be desired.

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The same can be said of the entire case of characters in Life is Strange.  With the exception of Max, who is not as clichéd as the others.  You have the rich jock idiot who threatens the kids and staff alike because his dad is someone big in the town.  You have the spineless principal who doesn’t want to rock the boat.  Throw in the staple rich-bitch and entourage and you’re starting to get the picture – this is basically a late 90’s/early 00’s representation of TV high school!

Whilst we’re calling out less than great aspects I have to say that the dialogue was particularly weak.  A single use of the word “Hella” in a game, unless in some form of self-deprecating humour, should earn you a certain kind of punishment!  Life is Strange used it at least twice and that wasn’t even the worst attempt at capturing teenage life.  Some of the ploys to make characters appear edgy, like sudden expletives, also just fell flat.

For all my negativity I must confess that the more I played Life is Strange the better it became.  This gives me great hope for the future episodes, despite feeling frustrated at this initial 2-hour outing.  The shoddy elements of the dialogue can be smoothed out and tightened up.  The earnest angst of the characters can be dialled back a little too.  Max is an intriguing central character whose story I really want to hear.  The time reversal mechanic and the whole Twin Peaks vibe (check out the license plate on Chloe’s truck!) really does offer up a great foundation for the team at DONTNOD to progress from.

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Final thoughts

Life is Strange: Episode 1 is full of promise and frustrations.  Poor dialogue, too much hipster angst that tries to be “deep” but comes off obnoxious.  Sub-par voice work throughout also hurts in a genre that lives on its characters and story portrayal.

Though through those teething issues there really is a gem of a core trying to shine through.  Thankfully the team have plenty of time to address some of these concerns in the coming episodes and really let Max’s story shine.  She’s an interesting, if not necessarily likeable yet, main character who you really want to get to know.  There is plenty to like, possibly even love, about Life is Strange but the other elements are clouding those elements.

Episode one is a glimmer of something that could, if buffed and polished a little more, could turn into one of the better story driven titles of 2015 and I for one am rooting for DONTNOD to pull it off.


Zeth

 
Zeth is our EU ninja and Editor in Chief. He's been writing about video games since 2008 when he started on BrutalGamer. He's pretty old and has been a gamer since he played Space Invaders as a young boy in the 80's. His genre tastes lean towards platformers, point-and-click adventure, action-adventure and shooters but he'll turn his hand to anything.