Life is Strange is about friendship, teen angst and a girl who just wants to do the right thing and fit in. Episode 1 – Chrysalis introduces Max, her school and provide glimpses into the main characters. It sets the stage for the mystery to come. It is a linear story driven game with only a few game mechanics. Max follows the story one scene at a time and three options come up: Look, Interact and Rewind time.
Press Y to look quickly became my favourite icon. Max as silent observer is the most powerful viewpoint and the ability to wander into rooms and look around is compelling. Characters become more rounded through their footprints, like photographs on a wall or a message on the answering machine, than they are when present. The world becomes more beautiful when all my attention was focused on the hand drawn art and I wanted to know more about the people around me.
I started playing Max as a self-conscious, quite apathetic teenager, uninterested in my surroundings and focused on my life. Who is Max? Why is she here? Who are her friends? Is there a boy she likes? Is she ambitious about her future? Is she serious or playful? The more I pressed the Y button, the less important Max became and the more my interest grew in the people and world around her. That’s a good thing.
Interacting with the environment is not a new game mechanic, but it is usually used to flesh out the story as an aside. Life is Strange uses it as a central game mechanic that progresses the plot and develops the characters. Sometimes it worked well, but often it felt contrived. Little puzzles were put in my path and I didn’t have the freedom to manoeuvre around them, I had to interact with specific objects in a specific order within a specific time frame to progress.
The same applied to character interaction. I was given limited set options and towards the end of the episode and felt very much that I was being pushed toward “the right choice”, instead of being left to make my decision and carry the weight of its consequences. I didn’t succumb to peer pressure and at the end of the episode when stats flashed up comparing my decision to everyone else’s, I was indeed with the minority for most of my choices.
The rewind time feature is an interesting one. I am glad it’s there, even if its introduction is clumsy and it is obvious that the story is built around it rather than the other way around. It is a useful tool that removes the weight from many consequences as it is almost always possible to rewind time and get a do over and try out a different decision.
It isn’t all sunsets and butterflies, sometimes after trying all the options they still seem like mediocre choices, but that is to the game’s credit. I didn’t want to play a game of deducting the right path to follow, I came looking for a game with bold characters, a mystery to solve and an immersive world where I felt the impact of my decisions. There were times where I felt as if despite its flaws the plot, environment and characters came together to provide just that and I hope to have more such experiences in the episodes to come as the story ramps up.
About DontNod Entertainment
Dontnod Entertainment is a French video game developer. Remember Me, their first game was published 2 years ago by CapCom. Life is Strange is their second game published by Square Enix. It is an episodic game with the first two installments released early in 2015 and the final two still to come.
Dontnod is based in Paris, has 70 employees and “develops video games for HD platforms based on original concepts and innovative technology.”
RRP: £3.99 for episode 3. £15.99 for all 5 episodes.
Players: Single Player
Full controller support
Language: English (interface, subtitles and full audio) and French (interface and subtitles only)
PEGI 16/ESRB M (Mature)
Platform: PC (Windows/Steam), PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
Life is Strange is a graphic adventure for adults (and almost adults) who enjoy the genre. Game play largely consists of observing people and the environment, picking up items to look at, talking to characters to advance the plot and snooping around other people’s stuff, with or without their permission. There is no combat, there is no skip this conversation or cut scene on the first play through and the main objective and enjoyment is figuring out people, including Max, the main protagonist.
It requires a certain level of buying into the world, the genre, the game mechanics and its presentation to in turn, slowly unravel a story with some unexpected twists and turns. If this sounds great, you’re the target audience.
Ease of use
It is easy to set-up and play through Steam.
OS: Windows Vista (Windows 7 recommended)
Processor: Dual Core 2.0GHz or equivalent (Dual Core 3.0GHz or equivalent recommended)
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Graphics: ATI or NVidia card w/ 512 MB (1024MB recommended) RAM (not recommended for Intel HD Graphics cards)
DirectX: Version 9.0
Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
It requires an internet connection to download and install.
Life is Strange: Episode One is mostly accessible for anyone with a mild to moderate visual impairment, has blurred vision or is colour blind or experiences simulation sickness.
The text used in the menu, user interface and for subtitles are standard size in a relatively easy to read font always in white etched against the normal game background. This can make it hard to read when the background is lighter colours. Interactive elements are marked with white, which is visible when the object is dark, but less so with lighter colours.
There was no repetitive bright patterns, flash or flicker, but there is glare throughout and the time rewind mechanic looks like that of an old VHS tape in rewind and can be problematic for anyone with simulation sickness or visually triggered migraine. Colour alone is not used as an indicator in the game.
The game is perfectly accessible for deaf players or those with hyperacusis (sound sensitivity) that may prefer playing without sound and also very accessible for anyone with a hearing impairment or tinnitus.
I played some of the game with and some without sound with no discernible difference. Sound can be adjusted through four sliders – master, music, voice and SFX volume. I turned up the music and special effects and turned down the voice for a change as it’s the ambient sounds that add the most to the atmosphere and character of the game.
Subtitles are automatically turned on, but do not indicate who is speaking.
Input and touch
Life is Strange is accessible for anyone with a physical impairment or symptoms that affect their accuracy, responsiveness or dexterity. It is also easy to play with one hand using the mouse.
Very little precision or accuracy is required to play. Roll the analog or move the mouse more or less over interactive objects and the option to view or interact pops ups.
Responsiveness is not a requirement and although some actions are based on a timer, the time rewind option is available to rewind until you get it right and these are not Quick Time Events, it’s mostly just moving out of the way within a set time.
The game can be paused at any time to allow for a break, but there is no manual save, so I had to play either until the next checkpoint or loose some game play when I had to stop playing unexpectedly.
The physical controls are easy to use and on PC all keys are remappable and fullscreen can be turned off to access windowed mode. The game relies on single button presses as well as button holds for playing, including having to hold the left mouse button whilst dragging to select a specific option. If you can click, press and hold, it’s easy to play.
Movement and mobility
Motion sickness and balance disorders
It is a third person perspective that is quite accessible to anyone who experiences motion sickness or has a balance disorder with dizzy spells. There is some simulated movement, but the viewpoint is usually from the side, not as a passenger, which I found easy to tolerate. Those with severe motion sickness maybe experience some mild issues as much of the game mechanics are based on searching through areas for interactive elements and requires the player to continuously move and manipulate the viewpoint.
Life is Strange is accessible to play for anyone with a cognitive impairment or learning difficulty. The controls are easy to learn and use, all game mechanics are introduced gradually and text is provided as both audio and text. It follows a linear path with only one goal set at a time. There are no complex mental tasks involved, the inventory is at most one item at a time and interactive elements are clearly marked. Menus are shallow and clear and there is a log book that provides information at the push of a button.
It is a character and plot driven game and much of the enjoyment comes from understanding and learning about other characters. The plot unfolds around dialogue and narrative, making it crucial to be able to understand and follow the story through language more so than through the environment.
None. It is a single player game.
It is a character driven game and much of the enjoyment comes from learning more about the other characters in the game by engaging with them, interacting with items in the environment that provide information about them and the theme carries on with text messages automatically sent and received with different social social subplotlines.
Trigger warnings and age ratings
There is some realistic looking violence with abuse and bullying featuring as a recurrent theme. Also bad language, illicit drugs and the characters are not happy, well-rounded people. There are conversations centred around typical teen topics and typical girl-teen problems.
Life is Strange: Episode One – Chrysalis hasn’t pulled anything off yet, but Episode 1 is a firm introduction to the world and its characters. The number of limitations made me feel frustrated and constrained and the setting is undeniably an artificial one, but within its imperfection there is a story I want to follow through to the end. I think its about a girl, friendship and loss hidden underneath a clichèd exterior. I hope it’s really good.
Product: Life is Strange: Episode 1 – Chrysalis | Developer: Dontnod Entertainment | Publisher: Square Enix | Platform: PC (Windows/Steam), PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360 | Genre: Graphic Adventure | Players: Single player | Version: Europe | Release Date: 30 January 2015 |Content Rating: PEGI 16+