Game essentials: Life Is Strange
We take a closer look at the App Store’s must-play games.
Life Is Strange
Choice-Based Narrative Game
A fascinating fusion of coming-of-age drama, superhero origin story and detective thriller, Life Is Strange stands apart from other narrative games.
As Max, a shy photography student who discovers she can rewind time, your choices have a seismic impact on the plot of this absorbing and moving tale.
It starts with a literal bang, as a restroom altercation leaves a fellow student dying from a gunshot wound. Max witnesses the scene, but somehow flashes back to several minutes before, realising she now knows enough to intervene. While Max learns how to harness her temporal powers, she’s drawn into the mystery of a missing young woman, reconnecting with her former best friend, Chloe, in the process.
It might surprise you to learn that it’s the latter that developer Dontnod chooses as its narrative cornerstone. It’s that very focus on character over plot that sets Life Is Strange apart – whether they stay as close friends or become something more than that, the ups and downs of Max and Chloe’s relationship are beautifully observed. Few other videogame depictions of friendship feel as authentic as this.
Meanwhile, those time-manipulating abilities become a way to examine the perils and pitfalls of late-teens life as you explore the quiet coastal town of Arcadia Bay. You might use your powers to effectively cheat in class, or for some revenge-fuelled mischief – like humiliating a snooty bully.
And you’ll learn things about others that you can use to your advantage. It might make you feel slightly uncomfortable at times, but your newfound knowledge could potentially save someone’s life.
Brilliantly, the game encourages you to abuse those powers, before making you realise that they have their limits. And when it comes to those big choices, being able to see both outcomes before rewinding arguably makes them even more difficult. After all, when you’re aware of the consequences, you can’t really claim you didn’t know any better.
Life is Strange deals with some dark subject matter, but does so with thought and care, making for some powerful and dramatic moments. As an approaching storm gets closer to Arcadia Bay, it seems to represent some kind of reckoning. Or is it just a metaphor for the intense emotions of adolescence, where every setback feels like the end of the world? You’ll want to play to the very end to see how – or if – it all works out for Max and Chloe.
There’s plenty of light to balance the shade, too. In fact, the game seems to be permanently bathed in a magic-hour glow, like an overexposed Polaroid picture. It creates a nostalgic atmosphere, evoking the feeling of a moment you want to last forever. It’s no wonder each episode gives you the chance to sit for a while and take it all in – which gives the gorgeous indie-folk soundtrack time to shine.
Funny, perceptive and heartbreakingly sad, Life Is Strange offers an unforgettable glimpse at a pivotal stage in a young woman’s life. It’s the kind of story we rarely see videogames approach, let alone do well. For that and the dozens of other things it gets right, it’s a genuine must-play.