Dontnod Entertainment was founded in the well-known city of Paris in 2008 by ex-members of Electronic Arts, Ubisoft and Criterion Games. 7 years later Remember Me was released, a game with great ideas but ultimately poor execution. Their first title didn’t sell well and left the company on the verge of bankruptcy. After several reorganizations and going public founding, Square Enix threw them a bone to develop what it would be a do or die video game: Life is Strange, an episodic game, starting in January 2015 and finishing October of the same year. Maxine Caulfield, a godlike girl named after Holden Caulfield, had to save a whole company from failing again. Years later we all know that LyS did the job and was a success, but was it really that good? Warning, spoilers ahead
A student that can wave time finds herself trapped by her own powers and decisions. Luckily, and as if we if we didn’t have enough stereotyped american school stories, many irrelevant characters will help her in that adventure. There is the female diva who is the bully du jour, bitchy but ultimately friendly. The odd and kind guy that tries to impress Max but ends up being relegated to a buffoon since the game spares him no time to show up. Oh and the fan favourite the rude, middle-aged man that meant good although his actions portrayed him as a paranoid stalker. Trust me I could go on and on about the characters. Seriously, why waste time making a diverse cast if you are not going dig deep in them? I understand thatMax likes hanging out with people but it’s not natural for her, it requires effort and it would be unnatural if she were interested in everyone but come on, let her do something else besides babysitting. That’s why it’s easy to empathize with her, not only because she is great but also because we are never allowed to know a lot about her. She is purposely left ambiguous.
Moreover, I’ve never had any issues with the godlike powers of Max and I understand the problems that appear when you mix ’em with an interactive choice graphic adventure but at the end of the day every action feels insignificant. Because no matter what she is trapped a by a whirlwind called Chloe. Choices being trivial wouldn’t be pointless if this game didn’t promise choices but we eventually are given two vanilla endings.
Finally, the icing on the cake comes with the final Episode Polarized where the game tries to be smart-ass and self-reflective going on and on about edgy concepts like “Stockholm Syndrome” or even with an evil Max evil who explains the player how to feel about Chloe and herself. It’s quite annoying being told about how to feel about something. Please, avoid treating the player like a dumb kid.
Let’s not kid ourselves; LyS is just eye candy. The player is merely a spectator that eats while playing and trust me, no one can eat while submerged in a good game. I wouldn’t even be mad about the disappointment that this game supposed if it wasn’t because it shows that it can do better that its average in the second episode, Out of Time where we see how great and powerful it can be (except the damn bottle recollection mini game). But after that, the game tries to encompass more than it should and gets engulfed in a hurricane of meaningless decisions and relies in plot twists and shocking revelations to progress. A game that trusts in these pillars is only good the first time you play it. And I get that getting invited to a buffet doesn’t mean I have to try every plate (although I’d like to) but it’s also implied that the waiter won’t be shoving down my throat a dish I don’t like. But I never had a real choice in this game besides choosing between Belgian waffles or a bacon omelette.
After 20 years of graphic adventures I expect more, If Freebird Games did what it did with To the Moon with such limited resources there is no excuse. Honestly, video games are more than a collage with good songs, stereotyped characters and a plain message. Millennials love watching but at some point we have to learn how to play, too.
Oh, are we done already? Well, that’s rather disappointing, isn’t it?
Thank you for reading my first piece. As is tradition, every Halloween I try to catch up with my imaginary games-to-play-list list, and although SOMA was really tempting I decided to go for Life is Strange. I actually feel kind of bad about my first entry of work being about Lys because I didn’t even like it that much but it left my with so many opposed feelings I had to eventually write about it. Don’t hesitate to express your opinion about the text!