Review: ‘Life is Strange’ Game Impresses in Episode One Despite Awkward Dialog

Life is Strange Game Screenshot
As Max, you can rewind time to shape the lives of your fellow students at Blackwell Academy.

If you mixed Telltale mechanics with the storytelling of Gone Home, you might end up with something like DONTNOD Entertainment's follow up to Remember Me, Life Is Strange Episode One: Chrysalis.

In Life is Strange game, photography student Max Caulfield returns home to Arcadia Bay, Oregon after spending five years in Seattle. A student at the prestigious art school, Blackwell Academy, Max is something of an outcast—she's quiet and self-conscious, and slightly out of touch with the town and her old friends. Early on, a crisis causes Max to discover that she can rewind time, and this becomes the game's core mechanic. As Max, you rewind your experiences to solve problems, help people, or make yourself look clever—it's up to you to choose how she uses her power.

Well-Rounded Characters and A Promising Story Guide Life is Strange

Story-wise, the game treads the magical realism line perfectly. As of the end of the first episode, we don't know why or how Max has her time travel powers, nor does it serve the story better to know. Like any teenager, Max wishes she could change time, and for the sake of the story, she can. The story is really about choice and consequence, and trying to grasp the importance of tiny decisions and interactions. As the player, even your smallest choices cause a ripple effect in Max's and everyone else's life.

Life is Strange Game Screenshot
Life is Strange's beautiful cinematography makes each scene memorable.

The concept works well for the game, as you're treated to both immediate and long-term responses to the choices you make throughout episode one. There's not much in the way of hardcore gameplay—it's a casual mixture of interactive puzzle-solving and decision-making. But if you're an explorer and a codex-reader, you'll find plenty to enjoy in Max's world.

The cutscenes and visuals can be a real treat as well. Life is Strange game devs took great pains to beautifully frame each shot, emphasizing Max's interest in photography and showcasing its graphics—not hyper-realistic, but moody and gauzy, bathed in a gorgeous autumn light.

The characters are interesting and diverse, and the first episode effectively introduces the important players as acquaintances, while letting you know there's much more going on beneath the surface. This is especially true of Chloe, Max's childhood friend, who first comes off as your average rebel teen but quickly reveals significant depths and facets.

Life is Strange Game Screenshot
Life is Strange's Chloe might be just a rebel teenager at first glance, but there's a lot more going on beneath the surface than you might expect.

That's another strength of Life is Strange game—the problems the characters deal with are realistic, if a little hyperbolic. It's unlikely that Episode One's multiple dramatic events would all come to a head in one afternoon, but addressing violence and abuse from the perspective of a largely helpless teenager feels both bold and relevant. Max isn't a fighter; she can't solve problems by delivering a series of well-deserved punches. She can only change things as they happen, and hope that her choices create better outcomes for everyone.

Life is Strange Game's Dialog and Metaphors Lack Subtlety

For all it's fluid charms in imagery and gameplay, Life is Strange delivers some occasionally clunky dialog and story developments, and heavy-handed foreshadowing. For example, players at all familiar with chaos or time-travel theories (or Ashton Kutcher films) will quickly understand the link writers are teasing between a certain winged insect and an impending cataclysm. But there are still four episodes of the game to go, so there's plenty of opportunities for the story to take unexpected turns.

Life is Strange Game Screenshot
Life is Strange's dialog occasionally crosses the line from 'witty teenager' to distractingly glib.

Back to the dialog. The voice acting is solid in most places and wonderful in others, but some of the writing sounds troublingly like forty-somethings trying to masquerade as witty teens. Some people do still use the word 'hella,' but not to the righteous extent employed by the Life is Strange writers. Nor is it ever necessary to spell 'cool kids' as 'kool kidz,' especially when transcribing dialog. If the writers needed to convey sarcasm here, doing so with quotes or a change in voice tone would've done the opposed to eye roll-inducing ironic spelling.

Time will tell how the final story shapes up, but Chrysalis is a good start for Life is Strange saga. It's ominous, funny, and unique, and though the teenager-speak might ring hollow, it's a promising glimpse of what's to come in DONTNOD's newest game.

Life is Strange Episode One: Chrysalis is available now for PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.

Our Rating:

4 star out of 5 (Excellent)
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