In my years of playing video games, never has one evoked such serious emotion. Dontnod Entertainment’s Life is Strange is a roller coaster of emotion that challenges real-life concepts that video games in the past haven’t — at least successfully.
The graphic adventure game is an episodic interactive drama that spans five episodes. It is centered around main protagonist, Maxine Caulfield, who discovers she has the ability to rewind time — a mechanic used as not only a gameplay conceit, but as a clever thematic device as well. With the ability, the player is able to change whatever Max experiences to what they like. Every choice that is made leads to the butterfly effect — in chaos theory, it means that a small change in one state can result in large differences in a different state. The game doesn’t use its own logic; it stays true to the scientific standard. As in this case, the attention to detail in every aspect is second to none.
Rather than the gameplay, Life is Strange focuses on story, and character arc and development as its central points, which creates a game where the player is emotionally invested in the characters. Themes of nostalgia and inner struggle are conveyed throughout, giving a sense of relatability. The genius of the game is that it reflects the lives of teenagers who play it. Max’s best friend, Chloe Price, is the other main protagonist in the game, and while her character isn’t likable, she is a fantastic portrayal of a teenager facing hurt and anger caused by the death of a loved one. Everyone has, or knows of, someone in his or her life who is going through, or has gone through, something similar. The game’s relatability forms a personal connection with the player — a connection that not every game can achieve.
It needs not be said that playing with time has its consequences. Early on, Max realizes that she shouldn’t have an over-reliance on her powers, and later on, that she can’t change the past because it was unfortunate. Life is Strange teaches us that no matter how much you want to change your life through your past, you cannot, and even if you could, there’s no guarantee for a better life — life can never be perfect. It may be difficult to understand, but it’s a part of growing up as a teenager.
While life isn’t perfect, the artwork used in the game is, and it is ingenious in terms of being right out of a teenager’s notebook. Perhaps the most different — and personally, my favourite — aspect is the music. Inspired by the Pacific Northwest autumnal mood, the music of Life is Strange is composed of modern indie folk music, featuring artists such as Syd Matters, Message to Bears, Mud Flow, Sparklehorse, and Local Natives. The music intends to create the perfect atmosphere, and “permeates through every layer of story, art, and sound,” says Jean-Maxime Moris, co-founder and creative director of Dontnod.
While there are flaws such as the lip-syncing and minor blips in the story, they do not take away from the overall quality. Life is Strange is a revolutionary video game, and has set the precedent for future interactive games.