If you think your life is strange you should probably check out the life of Maxine Caulfield, the protagonist of Life is Strange, as it is guaranteed to make your lot seem much more mundane. Returning to her hometown after five years, she arrives just after a local girl has mysteriously disappeared. To make matters even crazier, just weeks after returning and starting a new school she discovers she has the ability to rewind time, as well as occasionally see visions of the future.
This first episode is clearly just an introduction to the town of Arcadia Bay and its inhabitants. The basic elements of the plot are set up and lots of characters are rapidly introduced, although that’s not to say it always feels rushed. The brilliant opening segment sees Max walk through her new school, which is plastered with “missing person” posters. This is the first hint you get that the disappearance of Rachel Amber might play a significant part in your adventure. Then this side of the plot is almost entirely abandoned for the best part of half an hour (save for more posters and the occasional passing line of dialogue), until you meet Max’s former best friend, Chloe.
Chloe has been through a lot in the years since Max left: her father died, she became best friends with the now-missing Rachel Amber, her mother got a new partner who isn’t pleasant to say the least and she discovered the joys of smoking pot. The second half of the first episode features almost exclusively Chloe and Max, and the interaction between the two of them is fantastic. You can feel that there is a strong bond between them, despite how much they have changed in the last five years. But at the same time there is an uncomfortable distance; Chloe still feels aggrieved about Max leaving and not staying in contact, while Max doesn’t seem to be sold on Chloe’s new outlook on life. It really does feel like you are watching two genuine people reconnect for the first time in years.
The actual gameplay is standard for a third-person adventure game: you walk around some fairly small environments, interacting with objects and speaking to NPCs. Some of these interactions are required to further the story, whereas others can be totally ignored. Interestingly, some things you might ignore or genuinely miss can have consequences further down the line.
Episode One has around twenty choices with direct consequences. Some of these won’t come into effect until future instalments, while others might have an impact on the cutscene immediately after. However, if you don’t interact with the object or person who triggers the choice then you can totally miss it and not realise it was an option until you see the “choices you made” page at the end of the episode, which displays the choices your friends made as well as the global percentage for each choice. With this only being the first of five episodes, it’s difficult to tell just how much of an impact each choice will have; there were only a handful where the consequences became obvious, so I guess we will just have to wait and see.
One of the most exciting gameplay elements is the time-rewind mechanic. The amount of time you can rewind depends upon the last checkpoint, but this is almost always enough to go back and perform your last action differently. The rewind mechanic adds in some interesting options. In one instance, for example, I majorly offended someone I was talking to, but based on her reaction I decided to go back and play the conversation differently so she wouldn’t get angry, which felt better than her disliking me, but also felt somewhat dishonest.
The rewinding is also used in some of the puzzles. One example of this was when I needed to guess a person’s name and four options were presented to me. Needless to say, I got it wrong and the person in question corrected me -however this presented the opportunity to rewind time and use this newly acquired piece of information to correctly say their name and resolve the situation.
The first episode of Life is Strange does a good job of setting up what could turn out to be a thrilling and interesting story, but at the same time gives little away about what is coming next. The ending, which I wont spoil here, offers up a glimpse of where the story will eventually head, but there is still a lot that needs to be covered. The rewind mechanic certainly makes it a lot more interesting to play and totally changes the puzzle elements. The world of Life is Strange is definitely one that I want to explore more, but on its own Episode one feels like it is just the first stepping stone of what could be a interesting journey.
Great rewind mechanic
Believable interaction between Max and Chloe
Story has real potential
A few too many characters
Not a thrilling introduction
Struggles to truly hook you in