“It’s time to be an everyday hero.”
If you could go back in time and change your actions, would you? That is the critical question posed in Dontnod Entertainment’s new release Life is Strange. The game–which is the developer’s sophomore title—is a five-part episodic graphic novel adventure that incorporates the ability to rewind time to not only predict the future and solve puzzles, but to also open up new dialogue options and test out different short term outcomes before you make a choice.
While similar to the “choice and consequence” gameplay found in Telltale Games titles, the developers have added a delightful little twist to Life is Strange. Max, our 18 year old protagonist, finds out she has the ability to rewind time and alter the future. Before you say that sounds like cheating, hear me out. Despite having agreeable short term results, using information to change something as mediocre as a conversation, or whether or not you take the blame for a friend, may produce long term consequences that you aren’t prepared to face.
Chrysalis is the first entry in the series and sets the stage for our time-bending teenager Maxine Caulfield. After spending five years in Seattle, she’s back in the small town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, prepared to endure the mundane life of a high school senior. After adjusting to her new school and keeping her head down for a bit, the shy contemplative teen reunites with her best friend Chloe Price– who, following Max’s departure and the death of her father, turned to a rebellious and predominately illegal lifestyle. Together, they muddle through life’s daily dilemmas and will later embark on a mission to find out what happened to a missing student.
Although Max has a nightmarish premonition of an impending tornado at the beginning of the episode, and will later on attempt to find a fellow student, you’ll spend the majority of your time in this episode doing ordinary things like wandering around campus, interacting with your high school peers, and chilling out to some music at a friend’s house. In addition to speaking with other students, Max also gives her own two cents about each and every character you encounter–which is a neat way of introducing the supporting cast. The same goes for objects like posters and mirrors in the environment. One of the first interactions you encounter in the game is grabbing your polaroid camera and taking a selfie. How retro?
After getting the hang of exploring her surroundings, Max witnesses a traumatic event and instinctively rewinds time to go back prevent it. Throughout the course of the episode, our introspective protagonist hones her ability to get through every day life and gain the approval of her peers. If you were hoping for a time traveling mutant who’d fit in with the X-Men or would pal around with Infamous Second: Son‘s Delsin, this may not be the game you’re looking for. But, if you enjoy uncovering a story by poking around in magazines, posters, household objects, and similar to games like Gone Home, you’re in for a real treat.
As far as the rewinding ability goes, there is only one rule: everything in the scene reverses while Max stays in place along with whatever she has in her inventory–which is probably weird for other people who notice her appearing or disappearing out of nowhere. Also, although you can rewind to your hearts content–and thankfully fast forward through conversations you’ve already heard–there is a limit to how far you can rewind, and once you leave an area, whatever choice you decided to stick with is cemented and will affect the rest of your experience.
Probably the most important part of that rule is that you can hold onto whatever objects you pick up and take them back into the past with you to alter the events. This introduces an interesting take on puzzle solving. In one of the first puzzles, grabbing a hammer and going back in time to break the glass in front of the fire alarm stops one of the characters from doing something horrific. Though that solution was pretty straightforward, things get more complex later on. There is also a pretty satisfying puzzle in which you turn the sprinklers on near the highschool snob because she won’t move out of the way. If that wasn’t enough, once she moves you can tamper with paint so it falls and gets all over her. All the while nobody knows it was you. A super power I’m sure many taunted teens would claw for.
Doing devious things wasn’t the only thing that had me smiling. The hand painted atmosphere and soothing tunes really jived with the indie film vibe the developer was going for. If you’re familiar with the Sundance Film festival or movies like 500 Days of Summer or Juno you know what I’m talking about. Everything manages to feel nostalgic and warm.
The developer’s goal of organically weaving the tunes into the game is luckily a success. There’s a unique moment at the beginning of the episode where the withdrawn teen leaves class and pops in a pair of earbuds to drown out the crowd with the Syd Matters song “To All of You.” It was a small moment that in conjunction with her observations gave you a real feel for her character.
Although she clearly stays in her shell for the most part, Max has got something to say about everything. Whether or not she stays that way or branches out and voices her sassy opinions is up to you and dependant on the choices you make. Will you intervene on an event that doesn’t involve you? Or take a picture of what’s going on for your records? The option is yours and will change Max’s life–similar to decisions teens make when entering adulthood. Hence, Chrysalis.
All in all, if you’ve been enjoying the episodic gaming craze, or appreciate a slower paced story full of mystery, Life is Strange–which is out tomorrow January 30, 2015 on PC, PS4 and Xbox One-– is definitely worth a look.