Life is Strange: Limited Edition greets 2016 with a fervent smile on its face. It’s a bold game to release so early in the year, in fact – it’s a bold game to release any time of the year. I say this because Life is Strange is less a conventional videogame and more an interactive choose-your-own-adventure. Packaged with a 32-paged artbook, directors’ commentary and a fully licensed soundtrack, fans can now fully embrace the time-travelling escapades of a certain Maxine Caulfield the way they were truly meant to.
Name: Life is Strange: Limited Edition Platform(s): PS4, Xbox One, PC Publisher(s): Square Enix Developer(s): Dontnod Entertainment Genre(s): Adventure/Point-and-click Release Date: 1.19.2016 Price: £24.99 / $35.00 Reviewed on: Xbox One
From that opening paragraph, you get the sense that Life is Strange isn’t an orthodox mainstream title. Originally circulating as a series of independent chapters released by Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix, the game had a successful run from January through to October last year (2015). I missed this one on its initial release and it was with some hesitancy I approached this collectors’ edition – praying it wasn’t another Game of Thrones or Walking Dead ‘point and click’ adventure that so many people had been saying it was (and of which I’m not so fond).
I’m going to go against the grain here and solidly say – Life is Strange surpasses all of those aforementioned titles and then some. Perhaps it’s down to the lack of those treacherous quick-time events or perhaps it’s due to a lack of lineage; there’s no hefty source material holding this one back from being a truly engrossing adventure. Whatever the recipe for success is here, I think it all initially stems from the writing. Without a solid narrative and without decent characters you don’t have something worth committing to the screen. While our protagonist Max doesn’t always hit the mark with her fairly bleak and monotone outlook on life, the cast of wild, bizarre and often very dangerous characters all play a significant part in the solid 6 or 7-hour campaign.
Story arcs are something you’d commonly associate with a good movie and less so for a videogame. On the reverse of the packaging for this Limited Edition the game proudly boasts its ‘director’s commentary’ as a key feature; it’s terminology like this that really supports the notion that a game like this aims to blur the line between film and game completely. It’s one art form; there’s no developers here – purely directors. The game takes place in the fictional Arcadia Bay, Oregon (loosely based on the non-fiction Tillamook Bay, Portland) and tells the story of a supernaturally gifted 12th grade student named Max Caulfield. Through harrowing scenes early on, you’ll come to realize that Max has a Prince of Persia quality to her – in so much that she can rewind time whenever she wants/whenever is most convenient. To say anything else would be to spoil too much of what is already a fantastic plot, therefore I leave it up to you to do yourself a favor and experience this one first-hand.
Despite being fairly linear, the game has an open-world quality to it that hasn’t felt present in any previous choose-your-own-adventure titles. This is achieved through great art direction: simplistic graphics, nice spacious environments and few items to investigate at any one given time. There’s nothing worse than playing a game where only one item needs to be found in order to progress and just so happens to be lost in a sea of thousands of other redundant interactive objects. This never happens, leaving the game to rattle through at a steady pace, occasionally stopping to play saccharine songs from the soundtrack over a series of brooding cutscenes of Max in various locations.
The acting in this game is also superb, with a conscious decision being made to allow the actors to somewhat ad-lib and inhabit the minds of their characters fully – often abbreviating or using slang to keep the universe feeling rich and contemporary (this may actually just be the writing but it feels way too organic if that’s the case – impressive!). While I personally find Max a bit of a downer I really get a kick out of some of the other characters: her best friend Chloe, Chloe’s dominating stepfather (or ‘stepdouche’), Max’s dorky love interest and the bitchy cheerleader that swarm Blackwell Academy. They all feel nicely realized, taking the cliché of ‘nasty girls’ or ‘overbearing ex-army vet’ and run with them to cook up an array of emotions that keep you on your toes throughout the campaign. The voice actress for Chloe also deserves a hell of a lot of recognition – she literally goes through the emotional ringer for this one, channeling her inner Di Caprio from The Revenant.
Life is Strange is one of those sweet little gems that popped up absolutely out of nowhere for me and now takes pride of place in my gaming collection. The Limited Edition features an artbook that I wasn’t too impressed with (it is literally just a few screenshots without any behind-the-scenes text or description) and a physical soundtrack – not a pesky digital code – which is absolutely worth the extra cash. The songs that stand out for me are Crosses by Jose Gonzalez, Lua by Bright Eyes and Spanish Sahara by one of my favorite bands, Foals (while you’re there, check out my other favorite song of theirs: Birch Tree). All low key, beautiful songs with a melancholy vibe – perfectly fitting for a game like this.
I titled this review Life is Strange: The T.S Elliot of Videogames and I didn’t do that lightly. There’s an incredible poem from Elliot named Burnt Norton, all about the weightless qualities of time and the blurred lines between past and future. I’d love to pick the brains of Life is Strange writers Christian Divine and Jean-Luc Cano to find out whether or not they’ve read that poem – and if so, did that inspire them to come up with both the narrative and time-reversing mechanic for this one. I’ll leave you with a passage, it feels only right:
“Time present and time past, are both perhaps present in time future, and time future contained in time past. If all time is eternally present all time is unredeemable. What might have been being an abstraction, remaining a perpetual possibility only in a world of speculation. Footfalls echo in the memory down the passage we did not take, towards the door we never opened, into the rose-garden. My words echo, thus, in your mind.”
*review copy provided by Square Enix
Life is Strange: Limited Edition
Overall, Life is Strange is one hell of a game – one that is made even more enjoyable through the well-priced additions of the Limited Edition box set. While the art book won’t be to everyone’s liking, the director’s commentary and soundtrack CD are wonderful additions to the collection. I was totally absorbed in Dontnod’s latest venture and I can’t wait to see what they come up with next. Make sure this is your next 2016 purchase!