DONTNOD Entertainment are a studio that took a shot and fell short, like so many before them when their last game, Remember Me, was met with middling reviews and spartan sales. Rumours were abound that DONTNOD had gone the way of the Dodo, but thankfully they are alive and kicking, having teamed up with Square Enix to bring us Life is Strange.
Life is Strange is an episodic graphic adventure game in the vein of Telltale Games works, such as The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones. It follows the life of Maxine Caulfield, an introverted photography student who has returned to her hometown to study at a prestigious academy. After witnessing the murder of a fellow student, Max discovers she has the ability to reverse time. Without giving too many details away, I will say that the story is handled admirably in episode one, with fantastic pacing as the characters and their situations are revealed to the player.
Max is a likeable character and not one of the usual stereotypes. She’s introverted and nerdy and, whilst not ugly or boyish, neither is she what Hollywood would have you believe all American school girls look like either. She’s not platinum blonde, no DDs in sight and she dresses like a normal human being, not Miss Universe. The supporting cast is interesting and varied, a nice collection of interesting stereotypes, but again, not the kind of stereotypes that usually make it into video games. The rebellious teen who hates her stepdad, the stuck up pretty girl, the asshole football jock, the teacher who just wants to inspire his students.
Life is Strange plays very much like a Telltale game but with a few key differences. The main hook is Max’s ability to rewind time to reverse a decision. This means, if you don’t like the short term consequences of a decision, you can go back and change your mind. However you can only go back so far, so if you later find the long term consequences aren’t to your liking, its tough luck. Since you can see how all the choices available to you would play out, the tension of having to make a quick decision is removed. However, its replaced with a greater worry as you start to mind game yourself. A decision that seems to work out best now might have horrible consequences for you later.
The game has a great art direction, even if it’s not stunning graphically. Soundtrack is really top notch too, never intrusive and always matching the mood/tone of the scene. One area Life is Strange stands head and shoulders above the competition is performance. Telltale’s games famously run like arse, but Life is Strange has no such concerns. There was some minor but noticeable texture pop-in during cutscenes, but that was the extent of the technical hiccups.
The writing is a bit hit and miss, but thankfully mostly hits but the misses do stand out. A few of these could be put down to localisation issues, given that DONTNOD is based in France. Sometimes there are sentences that, whilst technically correct, no one would actually say. There is also the disconnect between writer and subject to consider, given that Life is Strange centres around the lives of teenage girls, but wasn’t written by them. This means that the odd line sounds like when your dad tries to say wicked to be cool.
But here’s the thing; I’m not an eighteen year old girl. I know, shocking news. But I have listened to eighteen year old girls talk occasionally on the bus (not in a creepy way, shut up) and I usually come away from the experience wanting to be sick into my own ears. So maybe Life is Strange is bang on, maybe I’m just not with it any more. I used to be with it, but then they changed what “it” was. Now, what I’m with isn’t it, and what’s “it” seems weird and scary to me. Oh and hands up who got that reference? Yeah you’re not with it any more either, sorry.