Thoughts On Life Is Strange
Life Is Strange is an episodic graphic adventure in which your choices have consequences. It’s about a girl called Max, that develops the ability to time travel and uses it to help her friends and solve the mystery of disappearing students. As usual I waited for all of the episodes to be released before giving this one a go. I really enjoy interactive fiction as I find it relaxing and the choices gives me a strong feeling of agency. I usually develop attachments to the characters to the point that once it’s over I feel a sense of sadness for leaving them behind. Life Is Strange succeeded in this respect.
Life Is Strange reminded me most of my experiences with The Walking Dead, which made me slightly wary at first. While I really enjoyed The Walking Dead I was disappointed to find out afterwards how little it actually branched out (although this might have been rectified in the second game that I haven’t yet gotten around to.) I realize that branching stories are limited by the difficulty of writing them and the amount of assets available, but when they constantly remind you that your choices will be remembered it’s sort of setting up expectation. I also feel like it’s a way of creating a false impression that what you do matters when in actuality the results vary in significance. The popularity of choices was also shown at the end, which is a little hit and miss for me. On the one hand it’s really interesting to see what others did, but on the other it takes some of the mystery away from the game by revealing all of the options that had been available to me. I felt a little disappointed with some because it had me down as choosing not to do something, when in actuality I simply missed the option within the game.
I find there is a right amount of content to be seen in such a game, enough to add to the narrative but not so much that it becomes overwhelming. I could have been more observant, but unfortunately for me Life Is Strange was on the side of having too much to look at, not all of which I found to be interesting or relevant. Only you can’t know for sure if something is worth checking out until after making the effort to walk over and investigate. It can bug my OCD a little and detract from my enjoyment of a game. My partner did try to engage with everything, but still found he missed some of the choices. It was nothing major, I just didn’t want to be considered as the type of person that wouldn’t choose to rescue a bird for instance. I also think they had a few too many ‘find so many items’ objectives, which is a shame because these were intermingled with much more interesting ones. If you really enjoy the game then the time spent looking for things might not bother you so much.
The time travel aspect is integrated to various degrees of success. I enjoyed many of the puzzles that could be solved using Max’s abilities. I particularly loved how you could use it in conversation to avoid unwanted reactions or to learn something about them to use the next time through. Where I don’t think it worked so well is in the case of long-term consequences happening after the point at which you can no longer go back to change them. You can alter a choice in the moment if you don’t like the initial result, but it’s still not clear what the long-term consequence will be. I consider the long-term consequences to be more important, as what happens in the moment is usually just a way to offer immediate feedback to the player. There were some occasions where you could alter the entire timeline (like in the film The Butterfly Effect,) but I found that this affected my engagement with the smaller choices. Unless you’re concerned about the idea of each timeline continuing to exist alongside each other, altering a conversation to be more favourable feels less important when you know it’s all going to change anyway.
On a major choice Max will share her own thoughts on the matter to help guide you. I found that her opinions strongly influenced what I did, along with the results of previous choices. For example, I made a choice that had unfavourable consequences, so when a similar choice came later on I went against what I’d usually do, only this also resulted in a less than favourable consequence. At times I found the game to be too heavy handed, where no matter what you did nothing felt right. I’ve noticed that a few games try to incorporate grey choices by punishing the player no matter what they do; This can feel like you’re being tricked. Intention is just as important as the options we choose between. The game developers might not hold the same values as us either. The character we’re playing as will have their own set of values, but it’s still difficult to make choices without our own perspective coming into it. I can only base my decisions on previous experiences and the information I have available to me at the time. Even if a choice results in a horrible consequence, I don’t appreciate being made to feel bad about it because I did the best I could with what I had. Hindsight is a wonderful thing.
As for the story, it didn’t initially grip me but picked up after the first couple of episodes so it’s worth sticking out with. To begin with I wasn’t sure where the story was going and many of the characters seemed one-dimensional. It becomes more interesting later on as Max receives her call to action and many of the characters grow in depth. I could relate to Max fairly well as I am also a quiet, creative type (that likes to take photos.) I did find it a little jarring that despite being a shy person I could still get her to walk around talking to everybody, although this could be explained as the ability to time travel helping her to find the confidence to reach outside of her comfort zone. I was satisfied with the conclusion of the main story that had been running through the episodes, but disappointed with the overall finale. The time stuff isn’t as well explained as I’d have liked.
Time travel in interactive fiction is an interesting feature, but it seems to introduce other issues and I think more could be done with it. However, even though it might seem like I’ve had a lot to complain about in Life Is Strange, it still felt like a worthwhile experience that I recommend trying at least once. Unfortunately the niggles stood out to me more than all of the things it did do right.