Why video games like Life is Strange matter
It’s easy to get lost in a sea of AAA titles with their big flashing guns and massive open world adventures (Not that there is anything wrong with it), so when I finally decided to play Life is Strange (thanks Kotaku!) it completely caught me off guard.
For those who don’t know what Life is Strange is, it’s an episodic video game that centers around Max Caulfield, a 18-year old girl who just returned to her hometown in Arcadia Bay, Oregon to start photography classes in the prestigious Blackwell Academy, a lot has changed since she went away but she also randomly acquires a power, to be able to rewind time. Vide ogame-wise it’s not anything new but it certainly feels unique given the setting in which the story unfolds.
There is something particularly mesmerizing about the atmosphere that just catches up on you, it engages you while making the Blackwell Academy and its characters feel pretty genuine, it helps that Max is a pretty likable and relatable character, a calm girl who just wants to do what she loves but who is also very caring about the people she loves. Whether she stands up for what it’s right is up to you, and that’s where the magic begins.
On this game you are constantly pressed with decisions, decisions that you need to make right there on the spot and that will affect past, present and future events, you could always follow a guide for the “right path” but that would be cheating yourself of 99% of the experience, this game is a thousand times more enjoyable when you chose the path that you feel is right and then see where the story will take you.
Talking about the atmosphere again, this games just simply shines on the little moments, for example there is this part where you have to take the bus to get to a diner, and instead of just fading out and in between scenes, you get something in between, the bus ride, just Max sitting on the bus listening to music (kudos to the amazing soundtrack as well) while contemplating the scenery, you don’t get to push any button at all, you are just invited to ride along and blend in with the moment. Or when you are in Max’s bedroom and you can lay on bed staring at the ceiling, small things that you would not expect to do on a video game but yet they feel so natural in Life is Strange.
In many other games you are not given the opportunity to connect properly with the main character, you are just told some background story and then you have to get into the action; things are different here, you are able to explore Max’s personality through her belongings: her diary entries, pictures she took, books she reads, etc. And the thoughts she has when reading or interacting with her surroundings paint the whole picture of Max Caulfield. The same goes for the other characters, the game allows you to go in deeper if you really want to.
So at least for me, having this kind of video games who are not only interested in making you play but to really experience it on an emotional level (as many of us know by the end of episode 2) and that actually give a weight to your decisions is extremely vital for the industry, it pushes the genre beyond what is expected and sets video games in general to be taken as a more serious medium rather than being “just a game”.
Games like Last of Us help on this regard too, with a story that’s way better than many movies and with gameplay that puts an incredible amount of pressure on the player made it shine amongst all the other video games, Life is Strange is attempting to do something similar but with their own take on the matter but at the end of the day is also trying to tell a story worth playing
By no means Life is Strange is perfect, it has many visible flaws (like the horrible lip-sync), but the level of engagement with its characters and story makes us forgive them, what Dontnod studios achieved so far is really remarkable.
If you want to experience something new and have a console or PC to play it, please do it, there are still three episodes to go but I am confident Dontnod will continue to deliver.