Time Travel And Telltale Style Storytelling Converge In Life Is Strange
Gone Home meets The Walking Dead meets Heavy Rain meets Twin Peaks meets Veronica Mars. That more or less sums up the buzz currently surrounding the new game from the folks who brought us Remember Me in 2013. It’s called Life is Strange. With any luck this one will be more memorable.
Name: Life is Strange
Genre: Twin Peaks Sim
Platforms: PC,PS4, Xbox One, Xbox 360, PS3
Developers: Dontnod Entertainment
Publishers: Square Enix
Release Date: 30 January 2015 (Episode 1)
Price: $19/£12.59/R220.95 ($5/£3.30/R57.50 per episode)
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Telltale Games has not only brought episodic gaming back into popularity but has also managed to drag point-and-click adventure games back from the dead. Ironically with The Walking Dead. Now, while Telltale attempts to market its kool-aid in different flavours, French developer Dontnod is experimenting with its own brand of episodic adventure gaming. However, much like the kool-aid that wiped out an entire town, there’s a twist. Instead of poison, the secret ingredient here is time travel! (which can be its own poison in the wrong hands).
Life is Strange takes place in the fictional small town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon (not to be mistaken for the also fictional city of Portland, Oregon). Side note: oregano is the Parmesan cheese of herbs. So far so classic adventure game setup. You play as Max Caulfield, a high school senior who returns to Arcadia Bay after a five year absence and is reunited with her childhood friend, Chloe Price. As these things go, Max is barely back when fellow student Rachel Amber mysteriously disappears. Of course there’d be mystery surrounding someone with two first names, they always have secrets.
Before we go any further, it’s worth mentioning that once again Dontnod had some significant trouble in securing a publisher. Remember Me had a number of issues and just one of them was in production when the studio needed a publisher. Everyone told them to change the female protagonist to a male. Everyone except Capcom. Life really is strange.
Well, you know what they say about history, right? Life is Strange suffered similar troubles due to the game featuring a female protagonist. Eventually Square Enix picked up the game and all is well again. You can find out more about it in the developer diary below.
With adventure games being on the rise again and a healthy murder mystery premise, Life is Strange seems to have a good concept behind it and could be something worth looking out for just based on that. It gets better.
These narrative heavy games rely on player choice to spice things up but the trouble is that you’re never sure how much of an effect your choices will really have until much later and unfortunately they don’t always have much of an effect at all. Life is Strange may or may not have more meaningful choices but it does have an added layer to its decision making.
Time travel! (hot tub not required)
Time travel is a little broad a term. Max has the ability to rewind time up to a certain point. Through the magic of game design, these points are called checkpoints. Yes, someone made a game mechanic out of the age-old habit of reloading a checkpoint or past save file in order to change your decisions.
The idea is to see how the butterfly effect takes effect. For example, players might redo a section to make the best short-term decision but in the long run this could have far worse repercussions than the seemingly “bad” decision. Of course, being able to simply rewind and do things differently takes the weight out of decision making and could easily devalue the entire player-driven narrative. It’s unclear how Dontnod is going to avoid this.
In addition to Max’s Prince of Persia powers there’s all manner of weirdness abound in Arcadia Bay. Aside from the obvious Walking Dead comparisons there’s a strong Twin Peaks atmosphere to the game.
Life is Strange also features a great deal of things for players to interact with giving it a Gone Home vibe. Not just because of the female protagonist. There’s a distinctly indie tone to the game in the way that Valiant Hearts and Child of Light felt indie in a year when Ubisoft did some horrendous things in the triple-A sector.
Much like The Walking Dead you’ll notice that Life is Strange isn’t a visual powerhouse. Instead of cel-shaded graphics, it rather opts for cartooney graphics fueled by Unreal Engine 3.
Suspected Selling Points
- Time travel and experimenting with the butterfly effect
- Interesting concept
- Adventure games are gaining popularity
- Dontnod doesn’t have anything in the way of a reputation to go by and Life is Strange could end up like Remember Me
- The game could easily feel cliched and uninspired
- Time reversal mechanic could take the weight and tension out of decision making
There’s a fair bit that Life is Strange has going for it and we’d certainly like to see a different studio’s take on the episodic adventure games that Telltale has built its success on. The comparisons to Twin Peaks and Gone Home give the game appeal but ultimately its fate rests in how well the time reversal mechanic is handled. Furthermore, the butterfly effect and repercussions from player choices will need to be felt in order for Life is Strange to make good on its promises. Given Dontnod’s previous venture, we’d recommend waiting until reviews are out.