Life is Strange: Ep1: Chrysalis Review (XONE)

A Different Take on Point-and-Click Adventure

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Life is Strange screen 1. Square Enix

Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game made by Dontnod (makers of Remember Me). The writing isn't as strong, unfortunately, but the gameplay and core mechanics are far more polished than the glitchy messes that are Telltale games. Life is Strange has some issues of its own, but this first episode captured our attention enough that it makes us want to see what happens next.

Game Details

  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Dontnod
  • ESRB Rating: "M" for Mature
  • Genre: Adventure
  • Pros: Nice presentation; very competent mechanically; believable young-adult characters
  • Cons: So-so writing; time mechanic diminishes story choices

Like the Telltale games, Life is Strange will be released episodically. You can buy each episode as it comes out or the whole season. If you buy Episode 1, and then decide you want the rest of the season, you can do that too, but it'll cost more than just buying the season to begin with. Life is Strange is also available on Xbox 360 via XBLA.

Story

Life is Strange stars Max Caulfield - an art student who has returned to her hometown after several years away to go to a fancy private school. After witnessing a shooting in the girl's bathroom, Max suddenly has the power to turn back time, which she uses to save the girl that was shot as well as re-do embarrassing moments in classes and conversations.

Max's interactions with her classmates and the other folks in town, as well as figuring out why she has this strange time-travel power are the driving force behind the story. You don't really get any answers here in Episode 1, just a lot of questions, but it is certainly interesting and leaves you wanting more.

At least, it does on a basic level. Unlike Telltale's games where the strength is in the writing and characters, Life is Strange struggles in the writing department. The characters are stiff high school drama stereotypes. Max is a bit dense, too, as you as the player figure out things light years faster than she does, and her conversation choices are never really complete enough to get the results you want, so she gives half answers and struggles to convince people when you know that adding an extra detail or two would have done wonders. The setting is well done, though, and while the characters may be stereotypes, they're relatable. You've probably known people and even situations like this, which makes the story easy to get absorbed in. The problem is that no one reacts to anything in a particularly realistic way, which is sort of off-putting. Like I said above, though, this is just Episode 1, so you hope things actually pay off down the road.

Gameplay

The time travel aspect is Life is Strange's biggest strength, but also its biggest potential weakness. When you can rewind time to re-do conversations, it feels like none of your choices really matter. Not that your choices actually matter in any of these games, but you feel particularly disconnected here.

Life is Strange is smart enough to not make things play out in a straight line, at least, so the "best" choices at the time can still turn out poorly later, which is cool. And you can only rewind time so far, so you can't go back and fix something too far in the past. An interesting aspect of the time shifting is that Max retains her memories and anything she picks up, which lets you solve puzzles that start out as impossible because you don't have enough time to do everything at first.      

Life is Strange does have an advantage over its point-and-click adventure competitors in that it isn't a glitchy mess that struggles to function.

The performance is nice and smooth. The controls are familiar for fans of the genre, as you move around with the left stick and context sensitive button options pop up when you can interact with something or someone. From a mechanical perspective, Life is Strange is solid.

Graphics & Sound

Visually, Life is Strange looks decent. The character models are nice and the environments are detailed. 

The sound isn't as strong. The soundtrack is solid, but the voice acting is rather poor. I said the characters are all predictable high school drama (and I don't mean drama class, I mean drama as in dumb crap young adults care about) stereotypes and their lines are as banal as you'd expect and poorly delivered to boot.

Bottom Line

Life is Strange doesn't do a great job of setting its hooks in you here in Episode 1. It plants lots of little seeds that will surely pay off later in future episodes but isn't super compelling on its own. For a small price, though, it is worth a look for adventure game fans looking for a different take on the genre. You can decide for yourself from there whether the rest of the season is worth picking up.

Disclosure: A review copy was provided by the publisher. For more information, please see our Ethics Policy.

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