To keep up with the apparent tomas plays games years after their original release theme, I have finished Life Is Strange and its prequel Life Is Strange: Before the Storm a little after the first episode of Life Is Strange 2 came out.
I’ve enjoyed both games tremendously.
These are very story-heavy games and if I had to slap a genre on them, it would be “Point & Click Adventure” without the “Point & Click” part. Or possibly an evolution of the Telltale formula.
As such, I’ll try to not spoil the main story beats, but I will mention mechanistic as well as narrative issues.
If you haven’t played it yet and want to avoid spoilers, it’s safer if you did not proceed further just in case. The games are both awesome, but have some flaws. I still love them.
Life is Strange
Having remained spoiler-free myself, the story turned out to be completely different from what I’d expected.
The setup: you’re playing Max Caulfield, an 18-year-old photography buff who’s family moved to Seattle 5 years ago, leaving behind your tragedy-stricken best friend Chloe Price.
You move back to Oregon to spend your final high school year (I think? The American school system is a little confusing to me – Max starts as a senior there) at the Blackwell Academy because they’ve hired a famous photographer to teach there.
You meet with Chloe and things have changed in her life.
Oh, and you can rewind time.
I absolutely love the atmosphere of the game. The school, dorm rooms, classic (presumably – I’ve only seen them in the movies) American diner, the Autumn weather and wonderful music.
The story is full of twists and turns, but what the game is really about is the characters.
While the super power does give Max a bit of a Mary Sue vibe, she’s still endearingly nerdy, deeply unsure of herself and her place in the world and quirky. We’d disagree on a few things but I’d love to hang out with her.
And even the fact that I’m considering that sets Life is Strange apart from most games I play. The characters seem more real to me here.
Similarly, Chloe immediately sets off all the wrong bells. We would have a hard time getting along. Her impulsive and explosive behaviour reminds me of my younger brothers, traits I do not take to well.
But again, she is real in my eyes. And as I got to know her better, I warmed up towards her. In fact, as far as I can tell, Life is Strange is really Chloe’s story. Not Max’s. Not anyone else’s. Chloe’s.
And the prequels only reinforce this.
You spend most of your time walking around the school grounds and talking to the other people there.
It’s an adventure game at its heart. But without most of the annoyances adventure games pose for me. I was actually able to enjoy this one instead of having to visit every location trying to use every item on every other item in hopes of moving forward with the plot.
Some of the things the game asks you to do are still annoying, but overall I’ve just had a great time exploring this strange little Oregon town and its people.
The music is great. You can just sit on a bench or bed and take a moment. Collect your thoughts or just rest up for a bit. No gameplay consequences, just looking around, lost in thought.
The “camera” work is really nice, too. Gives it a movie-like feel that definitely feels good in this game. It helps the conversations flow better, too.
I loved the twists and the use of rewinds. It’s especially nice in puzzle sequences and forced endgame states. These sting much less when you can just rewind instead of having to reload the game.
But the game is still a scripted experience rather than a sandbox to play in. So there are times where you can’t rewind because the game doesn’t let you to (and I’m not talking about the plot thing in the second episode here). The few times this happens it does make you frustrated.
And then there’s the ending. I would like to make a sweeping declaration here: all dream sequences are bad. All of them. No, you’re not special. Don’t do one. Please.
There’s a dream sequence in the game and it’s bad. It’s not very long thank goodness, but it’s annoying.
I find it really frustrating when the games suddenly take control of your character, remove your powers or just change the rules of the world. Suddenly you can only walk reeeeeally sloooowly, for instance (hello Mass Effect 3 ending).
Life is Strange is guilty of that too. And in my opinion, it cheapens the final section rather than helps (I keep thinking: please let this end rather than participating in the story).
I wish games stopped doing that.
But the ending itself is really good (presenting you with a choice I’ve spent some time mulling over – also always a good sign).
In the end, I felt for a lot of the characters and was happy with the result. Which is actually rather rare with games for me. Most endings are not satisfactory.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm
This is a prequel, done by a different company. In addition, the voice actress portraying Chloe (the protagonist of Before the Storm) was different.
I was definitely apprehensive about it. And indeed, the beginning was a bit rocky. For one, Chloe has no superpowers. No time rewind. This means when you mess something up, you’ve got to load the game up. And since there’s no custom saving, you reload from whatever the game people decided was the last checkpoint.
Oh and you can’t skip the conversations you’ve already had… absolute rubbish.
I don’t get why people keep doing this.
In place of the “rewind minigame” there’s a sequence where Chloe starts lobbing insults at her opponent and if these land well, she gets what she wants.
But again: no rewind so this is just utterly horrible.
The game fills in a lot of the stuff from Life is Strange, which is what any good prequel is supposed to do.
Chloe is much more mellow here, but still beginning to rebel and you can see how and why she becomes the Chloe from the main game.
As a side note, I personally did not mind the voice change at all. Barely even noticed after a few minutes.
We also get to see Rachel who is quite enigmatic but also pretty cool.
Initially, I found the fact that Chloe is keeping a diary a bit of out of character (while the same thing fit Max). But then, this younger Chloe is different and in the end, it felt right.
Some of the tone in the game felt a bit strange.
There’s a sequence where a student owes money to a drug dealer and you’re sent to find it and bring it back. You get caught by the student and then things spiral wayyy out of control and in the end you (may decide to) do the right thing under the circumstances.
And everyone keeps thanking you for being so good and brave. No one even asks you what were you doing sneaking in another person’s room. It’s all just “Thanks Chloe for being there we don’t know what we’d do without you”.
Yep, Before the Storm has dream sequences too. They’re bad too. Which is no surprise because all dream sequences are bad and everyone should stop doing them.
Oh also, lens flares. Lens flares are an artefact of a film camera. People don’t see them. When you’re outside, you don’t see weird hexagonal shapes because you’re eyes are not film cameras.
And news flash the scenes here are not recorded on a camera, they’re created from scratch on a computer. Why would anyone actually do extra work to add a lens flare effect to a scene during post-processing is absolutely beyond me.
See also every sci-fi movie ever. It’s so ridiculous. Stuff like that actively pulls me out of whatever’s going on rather than make it feel more realistic. Sigh.
Chloe is left handed.
So is Rachel.
So while the beginning was a bit of a rough ride for me, I definitely got all in and the whole thing was fantastic.
Seeing Rachel and Chloe become friends and more was really cool. I definitely felt for both of them.
And the ending was absolutely heart wrenching. Not because it showed you anything bad. But precisely because it showed you all the good stuff and you knew what was coming.
This is how you write a proper end.
Oh and then it showed you the bad stuff because the art director had a day off or something and someone decided to completely ruin the mood by being overly explicit and adding a bit of slasher fun.
This is absolutely completely unnecessary and again, means extra work someone had to do to make something worse than it would have been without it.
Just when you think someone in computer games actually understood nuance and the power of not showing, they crap all over themselves.
Turns out, I’m not the only one thinking that:
The bonus episode
I cried. It was short and sweet and good and terrifying.
I thought it was going to be the good old times when the girls were young and playing pirates. Instead, it was the day it all went to hell.
I’ve really enjoyed the whole thing.
It certainly has its flaws, but it’s probably one of the games that will stick in my memory for a long time.
I welcome more games like this.
And yet, I’m not really sure about recommending it to many of my friends. It’s very emotional and if you don’t click with the characters, it’ll probably leave you cold and frustrated.