There’s almost always a certain expectation when you’re the second notable game brandishing a relatively new style of gameplay. When The Walking Dead Season 1 released back in 2012 it revitalized the adventure game genre and added the twist of all your choices having in-game consequences. It was a massive success critically and commercially and for a while no one attempted to take on that concept. Now in 2015 Dontnod decided to go for it and added a few wrinkles of their own.
The first thing I noticed when starting up Life Is Strange is that the production values were noticeably lower. The technical aspect of the graphics weren’t up the standards set by The Walking Dead and neither was the voice acting (especially some of Max’s inner thoughts). Even so it exudes something that the TWD could never have. An identity to call its own. The art swings somewhere between Pixar animated and an almost painted look, and the relaxed acoustic music set is fitting. Even the menus and prompts share this idea with their sketchbook design. It’s cool because it’s different, and more importantly, cohesive. Everyone and everything shares in this simple aesthetic.
I really found Max to be a very believable person in this world, and I think part of that stems from personal experience. She’s shy, a little introverted, and finds any kind of conflict to be very stressful. Her thoughts show that she constantly second guesses things or puts herself down. Max reminds me a lot of myself in high school. While I’ve gone on record before to say that I don’t always need relatable protagonists I really enjoyed it here. I felt for Max in a way that I haven’t for a lot of main characters in most games I play. Even those who maybe don’t relate to Max can probably still feel some empathy for her. I don’t think I can say the same for most everyone else though as they seem more like caricatures than actual human beings. When I saw the rich girl Victoria with the group of friends who constantly bullied Kate for her abstinence pledge I couldn’t help but feel like that was a little too obvious. Chloe also teetered on that edge early on when Max and her are hanging out. “Of course she’s a rebel girl because obviously that’s the only answer to an authoritative father or stepfather.” Granted she is rapidly gaining more depth than that as the story progresses but I still couldn’t shake that thought through the entire first episode.
Without any real explanation Max takes on the power to control time early on in the story. Being the crux of the game’s mechanics the first episode takes every chance it can to tell you (as Max) that you can rewind critical choices and choose another with your powers. At first I worried that this would take away any sense of agency from the game (since you can choose whatever, see how it plays out, and go back to try the other option as many times as you’d like), but they still felt pretty powerful once I locked them in. Only time and future episodes will tell if the choices actually matter and impact the story in any real capacity or if it will go the Telltale route of only slightly altering dialogue. As much as I’d hope for the former I’m not getting my hopes up on that.
It’s impossible to judge the quality of Life Is Strange on the first episode alone. Maybe the writing could get noticeably better or the story could completely fall apart in the latter half. No one really knows. At the very least I can say the first episode got me interested to see more. Honestly not more of the doomsday overarching plot but definitely more of the character arcs. I want to see Max, Chloe and everyone else grow and change over these next few months, and I hope that my biggest fear won’t come true. I hope the game doesn’t fall into mediocrity. I want something special out of Life Is Strange.