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 else.
I had heard great things about Life is Strange and I had some Steam cash to blow. Honestly, I hadn’t researched the game very much before buying it. No reviews were read, and no discussions were had. There was a general sense among those that I follow that this was a game everyone should be playing. So, I bought it.
It took me a while to finish it, but I did manage to complete it a while ago. My feeling upon completing it is best described as “meh.”
More often than not, storytelling seems to trump interactivity in modern games. Life is Strange follows the Telltale adventure game style. Storytelling has always been a defining aspect of adventure games, but the classics had a sense of exploration and discovery that these modern adventure games don’t 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.
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 that’s there 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 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 in Life is Strange, but mostly it’s used to rewind the “film” and change your conversation options. The effect this has is that you end up watching large swaths of the movie over and over again (albeit, with a fast-forward feature). By the end of the game, I ended up ignoring the 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 doesn’t move along with time’s reversal, so to observer 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 the item after failing.
It’s in these types of interactive shortcomings that the game-play actually gets in the way of 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, these games seem to always throw in a quick-time event, or they require me to do some time-sensitive input. I’m either watching something, or I’m playing something. Game designers have never quite been able to marry the two concepts together in a satisfactory way.
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