Publisher: Square Enix
Platform: PC, PS4, PS3, Xbox One, Xbox 360
I’ve always thought that video games were destined to be the future of story telling.
If I describe to you a medium which takes the stunning audio and visual experience found in film, removes the passivity and also adds a novel’s sense of scope and inclusion – I think you can see why.
Yet we’re sure you’ll agree that this is a future that sadly hasn’t been realized. Instead of using the wonderous gift of interactive entertainment to try to say something, or even to create a uniquely personal emotional connection, most games are instead content with having us act out our childhood fantasies with digital toys. Now you’re a space man – shoot things! Now you’re a soldier- shoot more things! Now you’re a Knight- slash things! Etcetera.
Yet while there is nothing wrong with a game simply being an exercise in fun or escapism, its surprising how few games actually let you explore a virtual space that feels relatable.
Enter the curious French developed teenage adventure game Life Is Strange.
Created by the studio behind the sadly overlooked Remember Me, Dontnod Entertainment have swapped action packed sci-fi for a touching tale about a young girl starting university.
Set in a quiet American suburb with more than a whiff of Twin Peaks about it, you find yourself in the shoes of quiet photography student Max. Waking from a particularly vivid dream that you just know is going to be important later, she quickly finds herself back in class, dealing with snobby students and fantasizing about her brilliantly hipster teacher.
While this may not sound like a particularly enthralling gameplay experience, it is. There is something immediately charming and refreshing about walking around a college campus and exploring a virtual building that’s teeming with such life and personality. Whether its hearing Max’s authentically bitchy thoughts on individual pupils, reading a students amusingly written ‘ starting a band!’ ad or even being told to fuck off by another student – it all feels like a breath of fresh (digital) air.
Yet the game is more than just a college campus walking simulator. Taking its cues from games like The Walking Dead and Heavy Rain, this is a character and story based game with its focus squarely on making choices. While a decision based college simulator could be pretty enjoyable in its own right, thankfully Life is Strange has another trick up its sleeve.
After witnessing a brutal high school shooting, Max suddenly finds herself back in class – and quickly realizes that she posses the ability to go back in time. After the shooting, a quick squeeze of the left trigger offers you a chance to do something we all wish we could – rewind a conversation and make less of a dick of yourself. While initially, listening to the same conversations you heard twenty minutes before hand all feels a bit Groundhog Day, this mechanic soon becomes an incredibly interesting way of interacting with and even manipulating the game’s characters. With each choice you make seemingly having very real and often long standing repercussions, it feels great to be able to rewind after each conversation, learning from mistakes and fully understanding the weight each different decision carries.
This also is a great way of gleaning information from people and manipulating them for your own personal gain. When your teacher asks you the answer to a question you don’t know and wants you to stay behind, you can just keep rewinding until eventually you can gleefully give him the right answer. While that description of the process sounds like it would suck out the fun of the mechanic, it actually just means you really get to know the character you’re talking to and helps you to make more informed decisions. It gives you an enjoyably smug feeling knowing you’ve gamed the system and gained undeserved praise, but then again maybe that’s just our daddy issues rearing their ugly head.
Yet the main reason this mechanic, and indeed the whole game work so well is because of how well written the characters and dialogue are. There is something inherently fascinating about seeing the many different ways a person can react in a scenario, and the fact that we chose to rewind even the less important conversations just for the hell of it says a lot about the quality of the game’s writing. On the whole, you feel like these are real people you’re talking to – and knowing that your decisions hold such weight makes you really want to be certain before you commit to any one action.
Yet that said – we’d be outright lying if we proclaimed that the game’s writing was perfect.
While the general interaction is pretty immersive, from time to time the game’s writers do their best to damage your forehead with cringe inducing ‘down with the kids’ lingo. Luckily, even that fails to detract from the strength of the game’s characters and setting. While a lot of the plot revelations are fairly predictable, when the game world feels this unique and captivating to inhabit its hard to complain. Even so Dontnod, we’d definitely appreciate it if you stop throwing words like ‘hella’ into every other fucking sentence in the next episode – it’s mad stupid yo.
Yet these are small niggles in what is an otherwise thoroughly enjoyable and original experience. It’s highly refreshing to see a game that choose to focuses on characterization and humanity rather than violence and twitch reliant gameplay, and even more impressive that the team managed to create a world that feels so ordinary and relatable. At £3.99 this is a game that you simply must play.
By taking control of a person through a virtual space, games can offer a connection to a character that arguably no other form of entertainment offers – and DontNod Entertainment seem to know this all too well.
The future of interactive story telling is looking bright indeed.