Life is Strange is a periodic graphic adventure created by Dontnod and published by Square Enix. Episode 4 begins where the huge cliffhanger of the previous episode left off. It is an excellent piece of story telling from a teenager’s point of view and handles complicated themes and subtext with style and depth. It has just enough interaction to draw me in as a participant, but not so much that I felt alienated when the story puzzle pieces didn’t want to fit.
It is not a perfect 3-hours of game play, there are times when the animations were not done well and lip syncing was distractingly not synced, particularly in the last half an hour or so of the episode, but the story being told made up for any visual flaws and it played well throughout. It is a phenomenal work of art worth making time for.
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.”
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 is accessible to anyone with a mild to moderate visual impairment, has blurred vision, 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 is no repetitive bright patterns, flash or flicker and the glare from Episode 1 has been toned down significantly. The time rewind mechanic is still a heavy visual effect that could be problematic for anyone with severe simulation sickness or visually triggered migraine.
Colour alone is not used as an indicator in the game.
The game is highly accessible to 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 and characterization.
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
It is rated PEGI 16/ESRB M(mature) for bad language, drugs and violence.
PLOT SPOILERS included in the paragraph below.
Episode 4 has a strong emotional undercurrent and includes themes that may be upsetting, centered around severe disability, assisted dying, family life, families falling apart and the death of a parent. Bad language, illicit drugs, underaged drinking and smoking is part of the character’s experience of daily life.
Life is Strange is less of a mystery novel and more a Bildungsroman or coming of age. The cliffhanger of this episode was not as phenomenal as the last, I saw it coming early on and as a result, spent most of the episode waiting for the main characters to catch on, which was less of an emotional roller coaster ride than it otherwise would have been.
At times I was frustrated by the decision choices available, neither of the two main characters make particularly rational or thought out decisions, but within the context of high school, their decision making are typically impulsive and short-sighted. Throughout the episode I felt a bit like a parent watching their kids make bad decisions without the power to intervene other than to steer them toward the stupid choice or the very stupid choice.
This was absolutely brilliant. I have bought into the world of Arcadia and feel responsible for the characters. I want things to work out for them, I want there to be a happier ending and I wish them well. I wish there was more permanence in the world, the really big emotional impacts are blunted by Max’s ability to rewind and change it, but even so, I love the story and where its characters are taking me. Highly recommended.
Product: Life is Strange: Episode 4 | 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: 28 July 2015 |Content Rating: PEGI 16/ ESRB M 17+
The review is based on the PC (Steam) version kindly provided by Square Enix.