This article could have spoilers for Life is Strange. You have been warned.
Note – this article is an opinion piece by BBPCGC member Joel McCoy. It does not reflect the views of the group as a whole.
Perhaps Life is Strange would be better as something other than a game.
There was a general sense among my gaming friends that Life is Strange is a game everyone should be playing. My feelings upon completing it can best described as “meh.”
Storytelling has always been a defining aspect of adventure games, but the classics had a sense of exploration and discovery that modern adventure games don’t often have. The Walking Dead games by Telltale are not so much adventures as they are “TV shows” where you make simple conversation decisions giving the illusion of having control of the story. Classic adventure games like Quest for Glory, Gabriel Knight, Monkey Island, and Day of the Tentacle gave you more interactive control.
The storytelling in games can be great, but there has to be compelling game-play to go along with it. Life is Strange is mostly a treasure hunt where you root around in your “friends” rooms looking for something to start a cut-scene. It’s the sort of game that asks you to find the bacon and eggs in the kitchen while another character is making breakfast. This is filler content there only as an attempt to convince the player that they have some sort of environmental influence.
The game play gimmick in Life is Strange is that the game’s protagonist Max has the ability to turn back time and change her decisions. Time rewinding is a system that was handled well in the game Braid with puzzles cleverly designed around this feature. There is a little bit of that cleverness in Life is Strange, but mostly it’s used to rewind and change your conversation options. You end up watching large swaths of the “movie” over and over again (with a fast-forward feature). By the end of the game, I ended up ignoring the time rewind altogether. It was annoying, and it never seemed to make much of a difference anyway. Here’s a pro-tip: if your game requires a fast forward feature to avoid annoyance, then you are doing something wrong.
The time element creates some odd story-telling issues that are never quite addressed. Do characters in the Life is Strange universe find it odd that Max appears to warp around all the time? She moves independently of time reversal, so to observers she would be phasing in and out of existence. Items are another problem; in some instances (or when the game creators deemed it necessary) Max keeps items she picks up after turning time, but in other instances (keys puzzle) she loses them.
Game-play hinders watching the story, and it’s here that I think Life is Strange would be better served as a film or a novel. As I settle in to watch a cutscene, Life is Strange seems to always throw in a quick-time event requiring me to do time-sensitive inputs. I’m either watching something, or I’m playing something. The designers of Life is Strange haven’t married the two concepts together in a satisfactory way.
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