Tag Archives: Life is Strange

The Next Generation

Before I get started, welcome to 2021! 🎉

As I casually dropped in my last article, I was lucky enough to preorder an Xbox Series X for launch day. The Series X, Series S, and PlayStation 5 are impressive machines, without question, though Microsoft and Sony (to a lesser extent) have launched with perhaps a pair of fairly lackluster launch day lineups. Of course, this new generation of Xboxes was supposed to launch with Halo: Infinite which would have satisfied a huge swath of Xbox devotees. That release getting pushed back was a major fail, but as a Halo fan I’m hopeful that the Halo: Infinite we end up with will be better for it.

Sharing is caring, after all.
“Sharing is caring, after all.”

Beyond that one glaring issue, Microsoft treating the Series X|S as more of an extension of the Xbox One rather than an entirely new console generation suits me quite well. I’ll most definitely continue taking advantage of the Xbox One’s expansive library, which of course includes backwards compatibility with many Xbox 360 games and some original Xbox titles as well, only now with improved loading speeds and other enhancements. There’s also at least one Xbox One game I’ve been wanting to play that reportedly ran terribly on the original Xbox One that I’ve purposely delayed playing until I could upgrade to the Series X, actually, and given that I skipped over upgrading to the Xbox One X, this really is a notable jump in performance for me, even while still rocking a 1080p TV.

One more practical change, as minor as it might be, is the Xbox controller is finally catching up to the PS4’s with the addition of a “share” button, meaning I can at long last capture my own action shots of Xbox games with ease instead of having to plunder the nether regions of the Internet for screenshots for some of these blog posts. I know most people won’t care about this feature but, having already used it extensively for my Halo 3 game log, I can say I’m a fan.

Captain Spirit, ready to beat some Mantroid ass!
“Captain Spirit, ready to beat some Mantroid ass!”

I’ve not just been using my shiny new Xbox Series X to play ports of 13 year old Xbox 360 games though! My girlfriend and I had also started playing Life is Strange 2 just before the Series X launch, and managed to transition to playing the remaining episodes on the Series X with ease thanks to the wonder of automatic cloud saves. Life is Strange 2 is a much newer game, of course, but it’s not Series X|S enhanced, nor was it really pushing the hardware of even the original Xbox One, but hey, we have to start somewhere, right?

As I’d recommend to anyone reading this, we started our playthrough with The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. In this free mini-episode you play as Chris, a young boy who lives a somewhat isolated life due to the difficulty his father is facing coping with the death of Chris’s mother. Chris is able to compensate a bit better by leaning into his huge imagination, with Captain Spirit being his superhero alter ego, for example. The game itself is typical Life is Strange fare, with the player navigating Chris through a variety of tasks around his home. The “slice of life” stuff is quite strong in this one, and Dontnod manages to paint a compelling picture of these characters in the short time we’re with them. We both left this episode really rooting for Chris and hoping to see him make a proper appearance in Life is Strange 2.

Exploring the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.
“Exploring the wilderness of the Pacific Northwest.”

In Life is Strange 2 you play as Sean, a teenager living with his dad and little brother in Seattle. Starting off with more slice of life mundanities, shit quickly escalates in unexpected and tragic ways, with Sean’s brother Daniel exhibiting some sort of supernatural powers (a recurring theme in Life is Strange, apparently) Sean and Daniel find themselves all alone and on the run. Without getting too much further into spoiler territory, this sets up the rest of the game as we follow Sean and Daniel’s journey, with the relationship between the brothers being the real highlight of both the story and the mechanics.

You’re constantly faced with decisions about how Sean interacts with Daniel, how you let him behave, and yes, how (and when) you let him use his powers. I personally took a very careful approach with him, always attempting to be a good influence on him despite the difficult situations we often found ourselves in throughout the course of the game, while also giving him an appropriate modicum of freedom and respect that children often crave but so rarely receive. That’s a bit more of a balancing act than you might think though, but I almost always left every episode satisfied with how I’d played as Sean when looking at the end of episode statistics.

With great kid brother power comes great older brother responsibility.
“With great kid brother power comes great older brother responsibility.”

It really is kind of an interesting take, not being the person with the power, but instead being the person next to the person with the power. In that way, the whole experience is a bit more grounded than the first Life is Strange, perhaps feeling a bit more like Before the Storm. The similarities don’t stop there though. Life is Strange 2 really focuses on those “slice of life” moments, character building, and decisions which were the real focus of BtS. Attempts to shoe in puzzles or action sequences are barely there at all, and I think that fits the tone of the stories Dontnod seems to like to tell better overall, personally.

The game has a similar look to the original Life is Strange and Before the Storm, though, again, as with BtS, leans into the stylization just a tiny bit more, and for the better. Like the former two games, it definitely has moments where the visuals really work, especially when paired with another fantastic Syd Matters soundtrack and some talented voice actors. The writing (notably, the character dialog) is also worlds better than what we encountered in the first Life is Strange. I do think I had more minor bugs and technical glitches in Life is Strange 2 though, especially in later episodes, but nothing terrible enough to ruin my experience – just oddities like odd bits of clipping, overlapping dialog, that kind of thing.

Sean's journal entries are short and (usually) fun.
“Sean’s journal entries are short and (usually) fun.”

The new backpack and journal system is a nice upgrade from the former games. This both expands on those titles’ similar systems, yet somehow simultaneously makes it less intrusive. The journal entries are much more terse, consisting mostly of short thoughts, notes, and sketches related to recent events rather than the more complete transcriptions of the story, so they don’t take too long to review, yet still add a nice bit of extra exposition. This is particularly useful when it comes to filling the gaps from several timeline leaps that occur throughout the story.

Speaking of sketches, Sean’s a bit of an artist, and you’ll have several opportunities to sketch in your journal throughout the game. While the sketching mechanic itself feels a little half baked, the sketches themselves are pretty cool, and sitting down to sketch is yet another “slice of life” that serves to connect you with Sean. Like the photograph and graffiti mechanics from the former titles, this is basically a “collectible” system, though LiS2 also features a more tradition one of those too, where you can find various odd items in the world and squirrel them away in your inventory for achievements out of game, and the ability to use many of them to decorate your backpack in game. Fairly pointless, but a fun little addition.

After finishing the game, this one brings the feels.
“After finishing the game, this one brings the feels.”

Back to the more important stuff though, the story eventually reaches its end, culminating in a final decision. In an interesting twist, keeping with the theme of Sean guiding his younger brother, the decision ends up not being yours alone. Whatever you pick is paired with Daniel’s response based on who he has become by that point in the game, which itself is dictated by numerous other decisions, both major and minor, you made regarding him throughout. The endings vary quite a bit, with one of them being pretty insane, and while there are ultimately only four endings with some variations thrown in, this felt far superior to the absolutely binary choice and corresponding ending you got at the end of Life is Strange. I was pretty happy with my ending, for the record!

Despite some significant hype from some reviewers and podcasts I frequent, Life is Strange 2 managed to avoid letting me down. I’m happy with Dontnod’s decision to only very loosely connect Life is Strange 2 to Life is Strange, as getting to know new characters in new settings, and in new situations, was a lot more interesting than needlessly rehashing the events of Life is Strange yet again. While it didn’t emotionally affect me quite as much as either of the previous games, it definitely still did, and that remains a rare, powerfully compelling thing to encounter in a game.

Something a bit more appropriate to let my Series X flex just a little, was Star Wars: Squadrons.

X-wing versus Star Destroyer. Classic!
“X-wing versus Star Destroyer. Classic!”

I’m a big fan of the old LucasArts X-wing series and I’ve wished for something resembling a proper sequel for ages now. The closest was perhaps the Jump to Lightspeed expansion for Star Wars Galaxies, which while kind of cool in its own right, wasn’t quite a fit, never mind being attached to an expansive MMORPG weighing it down. Now with Star Wars: Squadrons, Motive, likely inspired by their work on the space battles from Battlefront II, has come out with a modern, online focused Star Wars space combat game of its own that is clearly heavily influenced by those older games.

I’m not sure where my expectations were when first checking the game out. I mean, EA made no secret that Squadrons was going to be a bit of a budget game, but it feels and looks plenty polished to me, pretty much nailing those Star Wars aesthetics. Zipping around a Star Destroyer in an X-wing, rolling and turning as you try to evade the Tie Interceptor on your tail, laser fire and explosions all around you? Yeah, it just looks flat out amazing if you’re a Star Wars nerd like me. The intermission cutscenes and in-game world menus (somewhat aping those seen in the original X-wing games and it’s ilk, such as Wing Commander) look reasonably nice too, despite them feeling more aimed at PC players using VR than fans of those old titles. Oh, and yes, there is full VR support here too! I don’t have a VR headset myself, but if I ever get one, Squadrons will be high on my list of games to try it out with.

Boring conversations in boring hangers.
“Boring conversations in boring hangers.”

Despite being online focused, there is a single player campaign. I feel like it gets a bit of a bad rap, often being described as little more than a glorified tutorial, but it certainly feels like a full enough campaign to me. You’re tossed back and forth between pilots for the Empire, still reeling from the Emperor’s death, and the emboldened New Republic, who are looking to capitalize on their recent victories by building a super weapon of their own. I think it’s story is… adequate. It’s not terrible, and it certainly does a fine job of giving you a reason to be in the cockpit, which is the main thing, but it’s all a little ho-hum. I found talking to your fellow pilots and other NPCs between missions similarly unfulfilling. I just didn’t find many of them very interesting, honestly.

Once in the cockpit the scenarios you’re put into are much more appealing, thankfully. There’s a fair amount of variety in set pieces and objectives, and some of the battles actually managed to remind me of those good old days playing Tie Fighter for hours on end. The biggest difference is perhaps the lack of mundane tasks and dead time in missions that often comes with simulation games, and was certainly a big part of the original X-wing series. A few times in a few missions aside, you’re always hopping from fight to fight, rarely out of the action for very long. I haven’t decided if that’s necessarily a bad thing, but it’s worth noting as a significant difference, at least.

The campaign is pretty fun though!
“The campaign is pretty fun though!”

It took me longer than it seems like it took most people to work my way through the campaign’s 14 missions, but after doing so, I immediately dove into the game’s practice mode which functions as a bit of a sandbox, complete with obstacle courses to race though, Fleet Battles tutorial, and then into the Fleet Battles vs AI mode, which you can run solo or coop with up to 4 other players. Fleet Battles is the main online game mode, and while the formula will probably eventually get a tiny bit old (at least versus AI) I’m intrigued by the design, which seems to borrow some concepts (most notably “creeps”) from MOBAs. It also contains phases similar to those games, though defines them in terms of fronts like some strategy games that attempt to simulate battle lines.

Each side starts out with their team of 5 players, a bunch of AI creeps. A flagship and two cruisers hold each team’s backline, while a smaller capital ship heads out to attack the enemy. Whoever wins this phase progresses to the next phase, in which they must attempt to take down the enemy cruisers. Winning that, results in a phase to finally destroy the flagship. These phases aren’t static though, and if the losing side manages to do enough damage to players (or farm enough AI creeps!) while avoiding taking too much themselves, they’ll push the winning side back and progress to the next phase themselves. This back and forth can continue for a while depending on how quickly the players can manage to take down the capital ships, and can be pretty dramatic at times, with victories pulled from the brink of total defeat not being all that uncommon. It’s a pretty cool system that mixes some objectives in with the dogfighting, while also letting us feel like we’re in the midst of a larger battle.

Maximum Star Warsiness.
“Maximum Star Warsiness.”

There are four classes of ship you can select between lives (or swap out by flying into your flagship’s hanger) like which can all be geared and used somewhat differently, while still allowing for a fair amount of overlap. The gear you can unlock and equip can be adjusted for different purposes and preferences, but that feels more about flexibility than catering to flavor of the moment easy button meta builds. There’s also a system for unlocking cosmetic items for your pilot, your ship, and your ship’s cockpit. The whole unlock system is clearly just there for the sake of providing players with some kind of progression, but it doesn’t provide any sort of edge, and works well enough. Plus, who doesn’t want a Grogu (ok, “Baby Yoda”) bobble head on their ship’s dashboard?!

I feel like going much further into the game’s mechanics would be digging into the weeds more than anyone would likely want to read, especially coming from someone who has barely even played online where real tactics and skill are developed. If you’re interested, there are all kinds of YouTube channels and streamers with a lot more expertise than I have putting out content. Here’s one I like, for instance. This is the type of game I do wish I had a crew for though, as I can imagine sinking a ton of hours into this thing with an organized team would be insanely fun, but for numerous reasons, the timing just wasn’t right to attempt to pull something together. In any case, even without playing it online much, I love the game and am definitely happy with my purchase. If you’re a fan of the old X-wing series (or any of its contemporaries) and don’t mind the more competitive, online nature of the game, it’s hard not to give it a solid recommendation, but even if you’d rather stay out of the online lobbies completely, you might just get enough fun out of it to justify your $40.

Fleet Battles is the gift that keeps on giving.
“Fleet Battles is the gift that keeps on giving.”

One more interesting thing about Star Wars: Squadrons is that despite announcing close to its launch that they wouldn’t be releasing any new content for it, Motive has continued to put out patches, new cosmetics, a new map, and they’ve even recently added two new ships – my beloved B-wing is now in the game to round out the classic roster of Rebel Alliance ships! This is all unpaid content, I should mention, because on paper this game definitely sounds like it could be yet another cynical microtransaction cash grab. Anyway, I imagine (and hope) that all of this continued support is due to the game being quite a bit more successful than originally planned. Fingers crossed that it’s done well enough to justify a future, larger sequel!

The Squadrons screenshots are mine, though the Life is Strange 2 shots were sourced from Steam Communities. I didn’t want to annoy my girlfriend with constant capture notification spam while playing through it with her.

Before the Storm

After finally wrapping up Life is Strange we wasted little time before diving into the game’s follow-up prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm.

Chloe and Rachel bonding.
“Chloe and Rachel bonding.”

When I first heard about Before the Storm back in 2017 I was a little skeptical. First, it’s a prequel to a game that, back then, seemed unlikely to need one, a suspicion I can definitely confirm having finally beaten the game. A major concern for me, personally. Second, developer Dontnod wasn’t signed on for this one, with Square Enix instead passing the reins to Deck Nine, who had never worked on anything like Life is Strange as far as I can tell. Concern rising! Perhaps most controversially, due to a Screen Actors Guild strike several voice actors, including the voice actors for the two lead characters, Max and Chloe, wouldn’t be on board for this one. While it turns out that Max would barely be featured, BtS centers around the character of Chloe, whose excellent voice acting in the first game was an undeniably crucial component. Oh dear…

Working backwards through each of those concerns, the voice acting turned out not to be much of a problem at all. Deck Nine was able to find someone who was capable of sounding reasonably close to the original voice actor, Ashly Burch, for Chloe. I say “capable of” because, while for the longest time I had wondered if they had indeed managed to source the original talent, or if maybe they went back and re-recorded her lines after the strike was over, there definitely were some moments in the latter half other game where the illusion shattered, taking me out of the moment to ponder how unlike Chloe the impostor on the screen sounded on a specific line, or in a particular scene. Thankfully these moments were few, and replacement, Rhianna DeVries, mostly nailed it.

In lieu of Max's time powers BtS adds a new backtalk system to conversations.
“In lieu of Max’s time powers BtS adds a new backtalk system to conversations.”

As for Deck Nine? While I’m about to go into more specific details in a bit, let me just sum it up by saying I was surprised at just how incredible of a job they did with this game. I’m not sure what they’re working on currently but I really hope that this wasn’t just some sort of a one time experiment for them and that they have more narrative games in their future. Amazing job!

The justification for Before the Storm’s existence as a prequel is probably a much more fundamental issue. Did the original Life is Strange need a prequel? Not at all. Is Life is Strange stronger with the existence of BtS? Surprisingly, I think so! As improbable as it is that shoehorning a new story into a timeline that was already somewhat established would be successful, it’s executed extremely well.

Before the Storm takes place during the often alluded to time in Chloe’s life after her father died and Max moved away, and after she’s already well on her way to becoming the rebellious Chloe we met in Life is Strange proper. An early scene in the first episode has Chloe sneaking out to see a band at a shady-ass club in the middle of nowhere. BtS shows us a Chloe who, at least from the new perspective of being inside her head, wrestles with how to handle the adversity she encounters and later muses about how she’s managed to pull off being such a badass. This is a different Chloe, one who is still developing the defiant confidence we saw in Life is Strange. I love this sort of subtle attention to detail, especially given that the events of this game are surely critical to that development.

...and instead of snapping artsy photos, Chloe just vandalizes shit.
“…and instead of snapping artsy photos, Chloe just vandalizes shit.”

Therein lies one of the real successes of Before the Storm. This time, lacking Max’s supernatural abilities and as much of a dramatic plot to deal with, BtS focuses more on the “slice of life” sections of the original game. While this makes it perhaps a little less exciting, the relationship between Max and Chloe was easily one of the best parts of Life is Strange and is echoed by the relationship between Chloe and the game’s other main character, the legendary Rachael Amber. I might argue that BtS is perhaps even more affecting given how much of a strong, passionate personality Rachel is, and for the record, not only does Rachel live up to the lofty reputation built up for her in the first game, but in some ways she even exceeds it.

Unlike the first game, the romantic undertones between Chloe and Rachel also seemed more obvious, and while we took the bait in our playthrough, despite the game seeming to want the choice to be more binary, we felt like it was more realistic for Chloe to respond apprehensively rather than leaping haphazardly into a relationship with someone whose signals weren’t always exceedingly clear. In any case, Chloe’s connection with Rachel goes on to justify many of the interpretations of her later relationship with Max. Was Chloe trying to reconnect with her old childhood friend, or was she actually trying to recapture her romance with Rachael? It’s even more interesting when you consider how Chloe takes on Rachel’s role as the fearlessly impulsive, assertive one. This is just one example of how Life is Strange feels stronger with the character development present in BtS, which culminates with the elephant in the room, the tragic events around Rachel Amber in the first game, being all that more disturbing after getting to know her here.

Make sure you also play the bonus episode!
“Make sure you also play the bonus episode!”

It’s not all perfect of course. Any time you expand a story with a prequel like this you risk inconsistencies or full on retcons of earlier established events, and while the events of Before the Storm seem to be carefully considered, there are tons of issues with the changes to the already sloppy timeline of the first game. None of these issues felt problematic, if we even noticed them at all, but this is a complaint I ran across a lot online.

Another frequent complaint is how the course of the entire game seems to take place in just a few days, which feels like way too short of a time for numerous reasons, not the least of which is how quickly the bonds between Chloe and Rachel form. While I agree that the timeline feels compressed for no real reason, that’s one specific assertion that I don’t agree with at all. I believe that at that point in her life Chloe desperately needed someone in her life and Rachael came along at just the right time to catch her in this vulnerable state and knock her off of her feet. Simple as that! I’ve heard some people suggest that Rachael may have even sensed this in Chloe and actively exploited it, and while, erring on the side of optimism, I’m not necessarily prepared to pass that judgement, it does fit with the events fairly well.

I can’t say I’m exactly immune to these kinds of complaints though. I was bothered by the timeline of the bonus “Farewell” episode, which has you playing through one of Max and Chloe’s last days together as kids. Avoiding spoilers here, but that is a compressed timeline, folks! While I really enjoyed the episode, it definitely clashed harshly with my impression of the events as presented in the first game, even if those details are ultimately fairly inconsequential to the overall story.

Some people also hated the end, particularly the very end, and of course I understand the reasons why. For me, despite being incredibly sobering, it felt thematically totally appropriate and helped tie the stories between the two games together.

The Tempest scene was truly memorable.
“The Tempest scene was truly memorable.”

I suppose I should stop there before getting into spoilers. To quickly run through a few remaining notes: the music is much more consistent and fits the tone better even if there are less standout tracks than the first game, the graphics are quite similar, though perhaps a bit more stylized this time around, and while the gameplay is mostly the same, we found ourselves feeling strangely pressured by no longer having Max’s ability to rewind time, having to live with the consequences of our decisions. God forbid!

While I’m not sure if BtS manages to surpass it or not, in some ways it’s probably superior to the first game and, in any case, I came away just as affected by Chloe and Rachel’s relationship which is a huge accomplishment all by itself. That said, the game seems to be quite divisive. I’d have thought if you liked the first game, BtS would be more of the same for the vast majority of people, but I suppose the people who loved Life is Strange loved it so much that of course they’re going to be super sensitive to any changes something like this inevitably brings. Regardless, I wouldn’t hesitate checking it out if you are a fan of the original Life is Strange.

Screenshots were take from various places on the Internet. Most of them are from the PC version rather than the Xbox One version but the difference isn’t huge, especially when reformatted for this blog.

Yes, It Is.

Back in early 2017 I made mention that my girlfriend and I had played through the first 4 episodes of Life is Strange and loved it but that our playthrough was “tragically” cut short before we could tackle episode 5. I talked about this a bit more here, but that original allusion was to a pretty shitty “real life” invasion into my gaming life. In the summer of 2016 my house was broken into and burglarized with my video game collection being one of the primary targets. Fortunately, I was in the process of moving at the time so most of my stuff had already been packed away and didn’t get touched, but one of the things that did disappear was my Xbox 360 which was still connected to my TV at the time. I wasn’t using cloud saves as my default save game storage back then so, worse than losing the console itself, I lost my entire history of Xbox 360 saves up to that point. Disheartened by the whole thing and not wanting to replay through almost the entire game in order to finish it, we regretfully put Life is Strange on the backburner.

Our protagonist, Max Caulfield.
“Our protagonist, Max Caulfield.”

While we’d been eyeing all of the subsequent Life is Strange follow-up games like Life is Strange: Before the Storm and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit with some curiosity, with the release of Life is Strange 2 this year we were finally hyped up enough to revisit the original game. This time around we took advantage of it being on Xbox Game Pass yet again and played the Xbox One version. Jumping in, we found that we both more or less remembered all of the first episode though our memories of specific details slowly began to fade as we progressed, culminating in the entirely unknown episode 5 and a satisfactory ending to the game at long last.

Broadly speaking, the game is a stripped down modernization of the classic graphical adventure game in a similar vein to Telltale’s post The Walking Dead games or Quantic Dream’s adventure games. That is to say, extremely narrative heavy with your choices being reflected in-game, giving an illusion of a complicated branching story. A lot of those choices take place via conversations, and there are also minimal, easy puzzles based on exploration along the way to round out the formula. In Life is Strange’s case, a lot of the puzzle solving involves the main character’s ability to rewind time, also central to the plot itself. There are some more traditional adventure game puzzles early on but, as with The Walking Dead: Season One, that approach is largely abandoned after the first episode.

Light, exploration-based adventure game stuff.
“Light, exploration-based adventure game stuff.”

Despite the similarities, Life is Strange does an admirable job of not coming off as some sort of a Telltale adventure game clone. Its systems don’t feel quite as obvious, at times feeling more like a “walking simulator” than an adventure game, and the total lack of QTEs or any sort of action gameplay goes a long way to helping. The game also supplements the already effective presentation with a phone text messaging system and an in-character log/journal system for even more exposition and depth.

The game starts off with your character, a teenage girl named Max, going about her day in a private school she’s recently transferred to after moving back to the town where she grew up. The mundanity of the high school drama quickly turns much more serious with a startling act of violence, the discovery of the aforementioned time manipulation powers, and an unexpected reconnection with Max’s childhood best friend, Chloe. Those (and other) inter-connected threads end up in a compelling balance of interpersonal drama and mystery with just a touch of the supernatural.

The drama takes no time at all to kick in.
“The drama takes no time at all to kick in.”

The first episode is a little jarring to a lot of people as that’s where some of the game’s more infamous peculiarities are at their worst. Much has been made about the odd, stilted attempts to replicate teenage conversation which had so many people facepalming out of the game, the nonsensical description of Blackwell Academy as some sort of a prestigious art school that sounds like a private college (and indeed, most of the students are college aged) yet is referred to multiple times as a high school, and the sometimes annoying and unlikable personalities and behaviors of the main characters. While I don’t think any of those issues are anything to bail out of the game early over, a couple of them do warrant some further focus here, I suppose.

First, about the odd language that the characters, particularly Max and Chloe, use. Just about everyone seems to agree that it comes across as a little ridiculous and, at best, inauthentic. Some justify it as simply being the way teenagers actually talk, less us out of touch adults forget, while another common explanation is that Life is Strange’s developer, Dontnod, is French and likely even more out of touch about the way American high schoolers talk (which may also explain their lack of understanding about the American school system!) Regardless, this gradually improves as the season continues past the first episode, with the characters sometimes even seemingly jokingly referencing those earlier missteps. It’s no big deal even if it is sometimes incredibly silly.

The infamous 'Go fuck your selfie!' line. Oh, and fuck Victoria Chase!
“The infamous ‘Go fuck your selfie!’ line. Oh, and fuck Victoria Chase!”

Directly related are the characters themselves. Personally, I find their personalities and motivations to be easy to believe. Chloe’s overly rebellious behavior and shitty, selfish attitude is fairly thoroughly justified. This is someone whose struggles with her emotions and her place in the world, already an issue for a lot of teenagers, are amped up to 11 by the trauma of losing her dad and then her best friend when she needed a support network the most. Max, on the other hand, comes across as someone spends far too much time in her own head and, while not incredibly awkward, sometimes comes across as a little shallow when she does decide to come out of her shell and interact with people. When she’s thrown into all of these crazy new situations she’s, of course, thoroughly unprepared to handle them. I’ve known plenty of people with similar personalities as both characters myself, in fact Max reminds me a bit of teenage me – the conclusions about how the world around me works, what is and isn’t cool, etc., forming my own private reality which I did a fairly terrible job of expressing. Honestly, there’s a certain amount of accepting that teenagers can be cringey and a little overly self-obsessed that needs to happen to truly “get” any of these characters. Sure, they can be annoying, but I feel like the people who absolutely hate this game because of the characters probably lack some perspective and maybe even a little empathy. Sorry!

More important than the personalities of the characters are the emotions they manage to convey, and this is where Life is Strange seems to make its improbable grand slam home run. The writing combined with excellent voice acting by the two leads really made the characters feel relatable and realistic, and their friendship (at least when coupled with the choices that I made in my playthrough) felt touchingly genuine. Combined with the intrigue of the plot, the game is astonishingly affecting and absorbing. By the end of the second episode I was totally hooked. From the reviews and impressions I’ve scanned, I believe I’m far from alone here in appreciating this particular aspect of the game as being uncommonly fantastic.

Max and Chloe's relationship steals the show.
“Max and Chloe’s relationship steals the show.”

This is a complete package though. The interface is fairly intuitive and never really gets in your way. The graphics are mostly very good with the only real shortcoming being the character models, which are perhaps slightly more realistic than the game can really pull off, with faces and especially lip-syncing sometimes looking a little janky. I definitely feel like they should have leaned into the stylized approach just a bit more even if they didn’t want to go full Telltale. The soundtrack, save for a couple moments where the songs don’t quite fit the scene, is excellent. Not only does it work well with the perceived tone of the game, but it goes along way to helping set it. I had “Obstacles” by Syd Matters stuck in my head for days after finishing the game. It all feels reasonably polished too.

Your text messages and your journal provide just a little extra exposition.
“Your text messages and your journal provide just a little extra exposition.”

So, after a few years we finally made our way back to (and through) the final episode. I wanted to talk a little bit about the end, and yes, I’ll spare anything but the vaguest of spoilers. Episode 5 culminates in some bizarre and disturbing time shenanigans, the resolution of at least one of our major plot points, and a big, dramatic decision. Not every potential loose end is wrapped up. You never receive any answers about the nature of Max’s powers, for instance. As that’s not really focus of the plot I can’t say it bugged me too much. It also ends up that quite a few of the details introduced in earlier episodes that seemed like they might be important never go anywhere. Regardless of whether these were plot threads that got abandoned as the series developed or they were purposely misleading “red herrings”, they added a lot of intrigue and mystery to the game.

I’ve also seen many more complaints about this last decision being a binary choice which does little to account for all of your previous choices up to that point. While sure, it does feel a little forced and limited, I don’t think it does anything to invalidate all of the choices you’ve made up until then. As I’ve said in the past in reference to Telltale’s games, the choices you’re making aren’t so much about affecting the overall plot as much as they are about affecting the details of the story, particularly when it comes to the actions and reactions of both playable and non-playable characters in the world. It’s less about changing the plot and more about customizing the particulars of it, with some entertainment value coming from standing back and observing the results.

The end times are here!
“The end times are here!”

Perhaps the oddest thing I’ve heard about the end (sometimes, but not always framed as a complaint) was that some players didn’t find Max’s relationship with Chloe to be compelling enough to make that final decision all that difficult. Since, as I mentioned, I found Max and Chloe’s friendship (we definitely read it as a close friendship, NOT romantic, by the way – interesting that such a potentially massive detail is so affected by your choices) to be one of the best parts of the game, this is quite hard for me to relate to. While I wouldn’t say the decision at the end was easy, both my girlfriend and I sided soundly in the same direction and were happy with the ending we got from it. Between that and the occasional complaint about plot holes I see, I’m fairly confounded by some people’s reads of this game. Maybe it’s a lack of empathy or any sort of ability to emotionally connect to a game on the part of some players, like I suggested earlier, or perhaps the differences caused your decisions along the way were greater than I realized.

Regardless, I loved Life is Strange and easily recommend it to those who like newer narrative adventure games and classic adventure games alike. Providing you’re able to fight your way through the all of cringey teenage dialog and drama, I think you’ll end up liking it. As for us, we already have the game’s follow-up prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, installed and ready to start in the coming weeks.

As usual, these screenshots were liberally stolen from numerous places on the Internet. Most of them are from the PC version rather than the Xbox One version, but whatever. Also, the color palette isn’t quite this boring, and Max doesn’t only have one outfit – most of these shots were from the first episode to avoid spoilers!