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Game Review: Life is Strange – Episodes 1-5 (Xbox One)

While Life is Strange made its debut last year, it recently made its way to retail in a well put together Limited Edition package. The games stellar soundtrack was bundled with a pretty decent art book, as well as a physical copy of the game. I never got around to enjoying the game last year when it was simply available as a download, but the recent teen focused time travel game: Oxenfree, made me instantly want to jump in and join Max Caulfield and Chloe Price on their emotional adventure, and boy what a ride it was.

Choice is a difficult power to have. It can shape us, hurt us, and haunt us. We become who we are as people by the choices we make, and live with the consequences of those choices. Not every choice we make is going to be good, as some can end up being very bad, while some will happen despite our involvement. We can fight it, live with it, or try to ignore it, but choice is always there, taunting us.

Life is Strange can hit hard depending on the person playing it, the game even has a warning message about if you can’t handle the subject matter the game contains, and it deals with some pretty potent topics. Drugs, peer pressure, suicide, fitting in, bullying. This game covers them all and then some. Max, and by extension, you, will come into contact with all of these and your choices will shape each of the events that play out over the course of the 5 episodes. I wrapped up my play through at just over 12 hours, and collected each and every secret photograph as I wiped my tears away during the ending credits. You can load up the final moments in the game to witness the other ending, and it is something that I highly recommend doing.

It’s hard to talk about a game where each play through to each person is going to be different. As I would check forums on what I needed to do to get a certain outcome, I’d consistently see people writing that they didn’t make that choice, or didn’t know you could do this, or that person did this or that in their game. There are a few choices in the game that I would make again should I go through the game a second time. Your morals can dictate a lot of the outcomes that will occur, and one of those choices affects a distraught character early on in the game and becomes a huge focal point for Max as a person, a choice I could not see myself changing even if I was curious to see it play out differently.

Max, Chloe and a few of the female supporting cast look fantastic, There are a few male characters that are well modeled, but the males with facial hair just look creepy. One character I just could not take seriously was the janitor Samuel, as his voice just sends shivers of creepiness down your spine. Even when he is being sincere, you just can’t shake off how awkward his character is. I spent a great deal of my time making sure I had each and every conversation with the entire cast, sometimes rewinding time to alter the topics discussed. Where Oxenfree did a great job breaking the mold of cliche stereotypes, Life is Strange embraces those stereotypes, and populates the game with them. I never felt like this was a poor design choice at all, as it is just executed so well.

Max has returned to Arcadia Bay after being gone for a few years. As she tries to fit in at Blackwall Academy, a school she has enrolled in for Photography under the teachings of her idol Mark Jefferson, she is picked on by the spoiled brats of the Vortex Club. This club is essentially ran by a few spoiled rotten rich kids who look to make a few students lives a living hell. As you are confronted by Nathan in the parking lot, the overall leader of the Vortex Club, Max meets back up with her best friend Chloe, a friend she hasn’t seen in years.

First off, I love Chloe. She’s easily my favorite character in the game, sorry Max… you’re a close second. Chloe is always entertaining to watch, to listen to, and she’s modeled so well. Voiced by Ashly Burch, who some may know from Borderlands with Tiny Tina, is perfect in this role. Her design is pretty much flawless and during a lot of the darker moments in the game, you just can’t help but feel each and every emotion she is going through. Sure, Max goes through a lot more, and I mean, a LOT more, but it was always Chloe that got to me the most, emotionally.

If you have ever played TellTale games like The Wolf Among Us or The Walking Dead, then you’ll feel right at home with the way the game handles choices. Instead of saying something like “Victoria will remember that” like in those other titles, you’ll have a few icons to gauge the effect from. Dotted lines in a speech bubble indicate a possible change in a conversation, where a butterfly will indicate an event has occurred that can change the outcome of something later. It’s a nice mechanic that doesn’t give too much away, leaving the effect as a bit more of a mystery. While you can see a few things happen from a mile away, it can still be shocking, as the ending of a particular episode left me with my jaw on floor, and possibly some wet eyes.

Life is Strange is an emotional roller coaster for sure. Some choices left me with setting my controller down to contemplate my

answer, as you don’t have a timer to rush you into making a bad call. There are small choices you can make that will cause small ripples in the waters of time, but others that feel like you’re dropping a giant boulder in the lake. At one point in the game, I was given a catastrophic choice to make, one that shook me to my very core. I had to stop playing for a while to really think about it. When I came back to the game, and had to pick between the 2 outcomes, my fingers were shaking, and yet I pressed the button and lived with my choice.

Visually the game can at sometimes be a mixed bag. While nothing looks truly terrible, some environments are considerably better handled than others, and some details can be lost due to blurry textures or some nasty texture pop up. It doesn’t ruin the game in anyway; it just can be pretty noticeable when it happens. Places like the dorms, or Chloe’s room are so beautifully detailed and just ooze personality. Mouth animations can look a bit odd, but like the visuals, this doesn’t really hurt the overall game at all.

I adored this game. Its quality can be inconsistent, the dialogue can be a mess sometimes, and graphically, it has some blemishes. But there is an emotional anchor to this game that just worked so well for me. I was hooked the first time I rewound time, the first time I got to really know Max and Chloe, and all the times I got to really know each of the supporting cast. There have been games that I have been really affected emotionally by, but those were with characters I had known for years of sequels and the history I had with them, however; Max and Chloe I have only shared my life with for around a dozen hours, and I love them to death. They felt like real people, like I was there watching the events actually happen.

This game, despite its minor flaws, is an emotional look into growing up and having to deal with choices that can affect our lives and those around us, and is one of the best experiences I have ever had, no matter the medium.

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  • Hijak
    Jan 26, 2016 9:07 am

    The graphics from this game look amazing. Definetly looking at playing this game

    • Jeff
      Jan 27, 2016 6:17 pm

      It’s a pretty gorgeous game for sure.