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Now Playing: – A Review of Life is Strange

Dontnod Entertainment first hit the scene with an action-adventure video-game called Remember Me. Published by Sega after spending about five-years in-development, the video-game received mixed-to-positive reviews from critics, and was, at least, a modest success, becoming a Platinum title with a million-copies sold. Nevertheless, perhaps because of the extensive development and various setbacks, Dontnod Entertainment filed for bankruptcy shortly thereafter. In-retrospect, having played through and completed Remember Me, I regarded it as an enjoyable video-game, and one I thought underlined Dontnod as having potential as a game-developer, but the most unfortunate fact rests in how forgettable Remember Me proved in the long-run.

Only a couple years after, however, Dontnod Entertainment appears to have really turned a corner for themselves. With more than three million copies sold by mid-2017 alone, it seems a smaller, less showy, more personal experience resonated far better with gamers. Shedding the action-adventure approach in-favor of a cinematic graphic-adventure akin to Telltale or Quantum Dream, does Life is Strange bring new elements to the genre, or is it something better seen as a benchmark to better projects for Dontnod? Here are my thoughts…

   As suggested, Life is Strange is a graphic-adventure video-game, this time published by Square Enix, and spans across five-episodes released throughout the 2015 calendar year. The story-line focuses on a young-girl named Max Caulfield, a photography student who finds a hidden power within herself: the ability to rewind time at any moment, allotting the ability to change events through the butterfly effect. During a vision, she witnesses an approach, and sets out on finding a way to keep it from destroying her town. The high-concept spectacle plays a significant role in the game-play mechanics and foundation, but it’s the interaction between characters and their relationships with each-other that stand out most in my opinion.

   This includes – front and center – her relationship with Chloe Price, a childhood friend who she lost contact with after leaving Arcadia Bay. Chloe can best be described as rough-around-the-edges, a good person at heart, who felt abandoned by Max, and by her father’s death. Their relationship carries the comradery that comes with friendship, and surface-level romantic elements as well. Other characters include Nathan Prescott, a snobby classmate from a privileged family throws their money in a lot of projects, leaving Nathan’s anger-issues often unchecked. And, finally, the relationship she has with Mark Jefferson, a Photography teacher at Blackwell Academy.

   In the sum of its parts, Life is Strange could best be described as a coming-of-age drama with an added tilt, like a drama-series such as Thirteen Reasons Why, for instance. Depending on your attitude toward such subject-matter, Life is Strange might be dead on arrival. The dialogue is filled with dated slang, which, at its worst, can be cringeworthy, but, other-times, is, still, at the very least, easy to be taken aback by. It could’ve been because I became accustom to it, but I found it less apparent in proceeding episodes of the series. The lip-synching of the characters is also a very distinguished problem, along with some occasional graphical hiccups.

   It’s definite Dontnod opted for a more conservative spending budget for their Sophomore effort, but through inspired visuals, they manage to embroider said-frugality with originality and pleasant distinction. Simply put, while Life is Strange is far more Indie than Triple AAA, it’s colorful and vibrant, providing an energetic comic-book like aesthetic. Plus, with an on-launch release of twenty-dollars, no one’s being short-changed.

   I find myself able to recognize some of the shoddier, rough-around-the-edges aspects of Life is Strange, and I do think they’re worth being taken into consideration. Regardless, even more than the large-scale dramatics and spectacle, I found myself particularly engaged with seeing the characters interact. It’s a thought I’ve had before, even during series’ like the slasher adaptation Scream, where I’m more amused by merely seeing the characters interact with each-other than the central conflict. Perhaps it’s the novelty of seeing high-school life through a nostalgic lens (although, by no means do I miss high-school), or, perhaps, it’s simply that, despite the flaws of our “hipster” protagonist and her friend with the “hella” attitude, I find charm in how their portrayed and developed, whether it be through nostalgia or truly empathizing with them as characters.

   Some of the story-line can occasionally walk the fine-line between necessary and unnecessary, nuanced drama and wedged-in conflict, or consistence and the lack thereof. Exposition and dialogue can occasionally resonate in significant ways or can feel overly-important, but, the best moments are when it doesn’t overthink itself. That isn’t to say the sum of its parts isn’t solid. It has drama, likable characters, and enough bends to the genre to keep itself from retreading too many familiar territories.

   The game-play incorporates a formula closer to a Telltale experience than Quantum Dream. For the most part, however, it includes more attention to small details and various nonlinear interactions and collectibles. As the series progresses, it also tackles the genre’s conventions in new, unique ways.

    Life is Strange has some faults that aren’t exactly ignorable, however, when I completed the story once, I knew I’d eventually want to complete it again. Aside from Until Dawn, which I completed like three times in a month (because we just had to have that Platinum Trophy), I haven’t done that for any other game like this. Despite everything I said, that part is still true, and maybe that’s what should be the take away. 

Placement on the List: – The Goods

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