Review: Life Is Strange - Episode 1 (Xbox One)

Reviewed by Austin Trujillo, posted Feb 2, 2015
Feb 2, 2015
  • Release Date (NA): January 30, 2015
  • Release Date (EU): January 30, 2015
  • Release Date (JP): January 30, 2015
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
  • Genres: Graphic Adventure
  • ESRB Rating: Mature
  • PEGI Rating: Sixteen years and older
  • Also For: Computer, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360
  • Single player
    Local Multiplayer
    Online Multiplayer
Life is Strange took me on a very odd journey through Max Caulfield’s life as a hipster teenage photographer making her way through college. Oh also, she can time travel. Let’s find out how that went shall we?
Austin Trujillo

This Game Is Strange...

The game begins with the ultimate cliché. You’re in the middle of a dark and stormy night, there’s ominous aura all around you, and you find yourself drawn to a stoic lighthouse that totally doesn’t represent some doom and gloom to come. You look to your left, and a huge tornado is brewing, the lightning cracks the lighthouse, the whole building collapses, and just as a huge chunk of it is about to turn you into a puddle of human jello, you wake up in the middle of a photography class. Sick daydream huh?

The game introduces some characters we will be seeing throughout the game, giving you profiles on them in Max’s journal, and tidbits of funny, snarky teen opinions of them. You'll also be introduced to Max Caulfield's personality as you listen to the ramblings and thoughts she makes to herself. 

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After some bullying and embarrassment in class, you’ll be prompted to walk outside and explore the hallways of the school a bit, before heading into the bathroom to get a grip on yourself. Everything is taken in from the third person perspective, and controls smoothly.

And that’s when everything starts to kick off. After a little blue butterfly fly’s through the window and give you the perfect opportunity for a photo op, a teenage boy bursts into the bathroom and begins talking to himself. Don’t think he realizes this is the girls’ room?

Suddenly another girl busts in, and starts interrogating the boy about drugs, and threatening to reveal the illegal things he’s doing. Things get heated, and then in the blink of an eye, a gun is pulled on the female character.

You watch all this unfold before you, and just as you’re about to decide to do something, the gun goes off, the girl falls to the floor and then...

Time Freezes, everything warps, and lo and behold, we’re back in the classroom we started in.


Rewind, Replay, Relive

This is where we are introduced to the main mechanic of the game, and Max’s special ability. The ability to rewind time, and change events. You’ll be able to experiment with this slightly by reliving a question that the smartass antagonist answers earlier, hearing the answer, and then rewinding time so that you can answer the question (and avoid embarrassment!)

Now that Max realizes she somehow has the ability to rewind time, she decides she can change the fate of the girl that was shot, and thus, leads us into the main story of the game, being able to reverse decisions, investigate strange mysteries, and continue life as a hipster teenage photographer. 

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The game plays much like a telltale game, with choices being made that will have consequences later.

The big twist here, is you can rewind time after having made a choice, and go down a different path. Keep in mind, this is limited, and you will have to go with one decision. Once you do, you will be notified that this choice will have consequences, and after leaving the area, that choice will be locked in stone.

It was very interesting to go back and see different outcomes from 2 different choices.

For example, there will come a time that you will have the option to report the student that had the gun in the bathroom, after rescuing the “damsel in distress”.

In a conversation with the principal, you can choose to report the student, or keep the info to yourself. I at first decided to hold the information to myself, which prompted suspicion from the principal, and a sense of untrustworthiness. After making the choice, Max monologues to herself and wonders if she should have told the truth.

With a quick hold of the left trigger, I was able to quickly rewind time, and be prompted with the same choice of telling, or with-holding info. This time, I decided to tell the truth, and was promptly told by the principal that this is a serious accusation and he will look into the matter.

Once again, after the choice is made, Max wonders to herself, “Maybe I should have kept that to myself…”

It was very interesting how well the game made you question the decisions you made, and gave no allusion as to what they would effect in the future. I found myself even more conflicted than I would be having a timed choice in The Walking Dead, and was delighted at how well the game made me really think about my options, and see slight differences in the choices I made, rather than setting them in stone right off the bat.

Even more entertaining is how time travel is used to solve certain puzzles. There are prompts later in the game to turn on a specific device, which will require you to turn back time a bit before someone enters a room or advances further to activate it. It also serves as a sort of do over for trial and error puzzles, instead of having to reload checkpoints.

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The game so far has done a nice job of setting up mystery and suspects in your quaint little town. The campus and living areas are covered in posters of a missing girl, who will obviously come into play later in the story, and introduces characters that have an air of mystery and suspicion around them.

One issue I faced however, was really feeling invested in a lot of the characters I was introduced to. Especially Max. She doesn’t really have that emotional draw that a protagonist like Lee Everett from The Walking Dead had. I find myself not really caring so much about her, and instead just want to find out what the hell is going on in this town.

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And the characters themselves aren’t very refreshing either. Most of them boil down to typical character stereotypes, but have the potential to have much deeper pasts.

The problem really is the set-up of the characters in this first episode not showing enough of who these people really are. I’ve met people who are just angry, just emo, or just plain awkward, but barely know anything else about them.

The only real exception to this problem, is the character Chloe, Max’s old rebellious best friend. What starts out as a character that is a smart mouth and punk rock turned up to 11, boils down to a real human being much later in the story. She shows anger and pain at Max for abandoning her in the past, and offsets Max wonderfully with her larger than life attitude.

Another issue I faced is lack of really feeling an impact in the choices I’ve made. While it is the first episode, it feels as though there was too much emphasis on the focus of the future consequences to come, and not enough on the present.

While I had issues with investment in character, and couldn’t particularly find myself immersed in the world, I was rather intrigued by how well the game portrays real life issues, and balances them with the slight supernatural effects going on.

The game subjects the player to witnessing parental abuse, drug use, teenage pregnancy, teenage romance problems, and more. It’s rather fresh to be playing a game where you have to make decisions based on real world occurrences, and adds a sense of actual emotional investment when you try to decide what to do.

To Be Continued...

The game eventually closes back on the very scene that it began on. We're back at the scene of the lighthouse, with an ominous tornado brewing before us, heading straight for the little town we live in. We wake up again with the feeling of dread that there's a horrible storm about to hit the town, and without any indication of how soon it is going to be here.  

The classic, "To Be Continued."

When the game is finished, you'll have the option to see how your choices matched up with other player choices in the episode, much like The Walking Dead's decision making boards.

However what I found interesting, was it showed me choices I had no idea I could even make, or that I had missed while exploring the game. It was interesting to see that there are options in the game that, while they may be small, could somehow impact the game in the future. I was surprised to see that even watering a plant is somehow going to effect me in the future. Missable choices was something I have never encountered before, and made me all the more wary about how much exploration I'll be doing when I play through it again! 

+ A very nice setup of things to come
+ Interesting and a fresh take on episodic content
- Lack of character investment
- Choices don't have enough impact (yet)
7 Presentation
Life Is Strange is something fresh from the Telltale formula a lot of us are used to from episodic content. It presents itself as something different, and raises the bar for future episodic game development.
8 Gameplay
The game controls nicely, the rewind mechanic works great, and all in all, everything plays smooth.
7 Lasting Appeal
Episodic content provides the wonderful option of playing the game over and over to see all the different outcomes you can come up with. That being said, there isnt much to really work with yet, so you may not have a long lasting appeal to the first episode.
out of 10
Overall (not an average)
All in all, Life Is Strange was well... strange. While I found myself nitpicking characters and plot development, I still was drawn into what would happen next, what all my decisions would effect in the future, and just what in the world is happening in this town? Life is Strange is the kind of game where you don't have to fear imminent death or sweat the danger and fear of the world around you. Instead, it's a very humane take on the episodic genre, with some supernatural tendencies sprinkled in. I honestly am very interested to see where this strange journey ends up in the next episode, releasing March 2015.

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