life is strange
The Sound Of Thunder. Donnie Darko.The Butterfly Effect. Twin Peaks. Blade Runner. These are all stories of fate and helplessness. They're all stories I like. All stories referenced both directly and indirectly in Life Is Strange. So maybe it's no surprise that the game has sucked me in this past week leading up to Halloween. And even after finishing it, I'm still a bit haunted. Even with it's messy landing in the final third of its closing episode.
Max Caulfield returns to Arcadia Bay to attend a prestigious art school. She's an introvert for sure. And she connects with her ex-bestie by sheer fate due to a violent outburst in a bathroom. It all starts off as a very teen drama murder mystery. Until Max realizes she can rewind time.
While the overall story is most inspired by Bradbury's The Sound Of Thunder (and probably more so by the 2004 Butterfly Effect movie as far as tone and setting are concerned), the game can better be summed up as a cross between Donnie Darko and Veronica Mars. I mean the setting is a prep school filled with precocious teens. There's posters hanging up to let you know that it's almost Halloween. There's even a montage at one point where the entirety of the student body lives out a school day in reverse while only Max is moving forward. There's lots of times where this game feels like an homage Donnie Darko.
But Max has a certain Veronica Mars quality to her. The cropped hair, the camera flung over her shoulder at all times, her slang and quick wit, her unending quest to help EVERYONE even as it slowly destroys her. Max puts the weight of the entire school - and eventually the entire town - on her shoulders. It doesn't really matter if it's Arcadia Bay or Neptune.
Not to mention that Max's ex-best friend Chloe has been murdered. That's what starts this whole thing. Chloe and Max were young and innocent once, but after Chloe's father passes away in a car accident, she goes wayward. This is where the time travel stuff kicks off. Imagine if Veronica had been able to just rewind time and prevent Lilly Kane from dying? What would have happened? What would the consequences been to the school? To her family? To the town?
All of this can and will be explored throughout the game's 10-15 hours. And it can be a great thrill to rewind time and see various outcomes to your conversations and actions. And sometimes it's entirely necessary. For instance, you can talk to someone and rile them up to get the info you need, and then rewind time and have the conversation NEVER happen. But you've got the info. Or you can break into a room and steal something, then rewind time to fix the door while keeping the item you snatched. It's a cool mechanic.
More importantly, you can play It's A Wonderful Life and find out all the consequences that might happen if certain characters live or die. Thus, you can mostly tailor the story to how you see fit. I say mostly, because some decisions are entirely out of your control ultimately. No matter how you try to "fix" things, you will certainly screw them up. "Fate... up against your will."
What I found perhaps most thrilling was that through different paths of time, you really see a lot of different sides to characters. Even minor ones become interesting. And what you'll learn is that in Arcadia Bay (and well, life itself), people aren't exactly one dimensional. Good people will do bad things, and bad people will do good things. Take for example, Frank. He's the local drug deal scumbag. He's a scary dude. But also a dude that's hurting. And loves animals. He's easy to despise, no doubt. But his appearance at a funeral late in the game actually made me feel bad for him.
Overall, the setting is great. Arcadia Bay is a beautiful north-west anytown. One that recalls Twin Peaks, no doubt. But with more shoreline it seems. The school setting is lovely, but also drenched in spoiled rich kid vibes. While the not-so-secret raves give it a bit of a Bret Easton Ellis feel.
Ultimately I had a total blast with this game - often times relaying bits of the story to my wife as if I were binge-watching a new drama or reading a cool book. That said, the game does stumble a bit in its final act. Not enough to ruin to experience. But more so that I felt like game elements were thrown in and there was too much tedious time-looping right at the end that made me feel like Dontnod was just dragging out the final episode to keep its length on par with the previous four. Truly, I felt like Episode 5 could have just been a short and sweet 60 minute conclusion instead of cramming in the kitchen sink. But even after a superfluous 30 minutes or so of look-how-crazy-this-game-is nightmares, the final conclusion was satisfying and bittersweet. At least the ending that I got. I'd also say that I had figured out who the serial killer was sometime around the third episode, so there's that.
My nitpicking aside, Life Is Strange is a really fantastic game. And I look forward to checking out further entries in the series.