I’m going to start by saying I don’t regret playing this game. The first four episodes were worth it, even past the plotholes, inconsistent writing quality, and lack of any scientific explanation or research. I give this game a 6.4/10, where 5 is neutral.
I learned about Life is Strange on a Reddit RP. I wasn’t really interested, but as many of you know, episode one is now free. What did I have to lose? I finished this game in less than a week, clocking almost as many concentrated hours as my Dirge of Cerberus marathon.
So, here we go. Episode one left me slightly intrigued, but not enough to really want to continue. I was actually going to buy Witcher 3, but it was really expensive, so I ended up getting Life is Strange and Oddworld: New n’ Tasty instead.
Spoilers for most of the game. This review is intended for those who have completed the game and wish to hear another’s opinion of it. I’ll state my choices as they come up, and note here that I had some spoilers coming in. I knew about the ultimatum ending, and about Rachel being dead, but that was it. Well, I also saw the “Save Chloe” ending, but not the “Save Arcadia” ending.
The first episode brought me back to the good old days of University. See, I was actually an arts student last year, English to be exact, and this was a fairly accurate portrayal of a small town school. I was impressed. Episode two was fine, adding to Rachel’s backstory and getting closer to Chloe. I’m impressed with the fact that Max told Chloe about her powers instead of hiding it for most of the game.
I don’t actually like Chloe, she’s not my type. I let her take the blame for the weed, and I sided with David, because I like him. Now, I didn’t hate Chloe, but her attitude for life was off putting, and I’m not a fan of hair dying, because I’m a prude. That being said, I think I warmed up to her as the game went on, giving her the handicap money, overdosing her, and generally feeling bad about killing her at the end.
Episode 3 was where my sci-fi sensors went off. I know my science, at least a bit. I read Jurassic Park, and Chaos Theory is prevalent throughout. Feel free to call me out, but I don’t think that Chaos Theory was what this episode was about at all. After this point, I started noticing the lack of any real effort put into research for this game. I’m not expecting the artistic writers to have gone all 100% science on me, but I have a feeling they did nothing. Look, any good scientist will theorize about the unexplained. The weather, whales, eclipse, moons, storm, everything. I even came up with some theories myself, but the only one that stuck was that it was magic. Magic is real in this world, the time travel is magic and these supernatural occurrences were magic. None of the scientific characters even tried to hypothesize, which is very out of character for that personality type.
So, three episodes pass and we learn more and more about Rachel, but almost nothing about the antagonist. You assume it’s Nathan, but I could tell it wasn’t *just* him. After seeing Mr. Jefferson talk to Kate Marsh in episode… 1 or 2, I kind of guessed he was the ring leader. I called it out to my friends, even. Anyway, there’s a lot of build up and not much pay off in these three episodes and I’m *completely fine* with that. I love to let my stories brew. It payed off in Stiens;Gate, it payed off in Solty Rei, and it payed off in Robocop. And it kind of payed off in Life is Strange
Episode four was the best episode. It was intense, there wasn’t any stalling, and everything heated up for the finale, which I will get to. I let Warren have his beat down on Nathan, and then felt bad for Nathan afterwards. That’s when I confirmed he was a victim, just like I thought. The rest of this episode went by fast for me, and I loved it. My memory is pretty bad when my adrenaline is high, so I don’t quite remember this one, but I remember I loved it.
I started episode five shortly after, but stopped to sleep. The next day, I finished this game. The long, drawn out Mr. Jefferson scene raised my first red flag. Then the steep drop in writing quality put up a second flag. Episode 5 was a rushed job. I’m going to cut straight to the point here and take this opportunity to explain exactly why I didn’t give this game 8+ for a rating. It was here, this episode. This was one of the worst endings I’ve experienced, and it wasn’t the binary ending, it was that it was a rush job. The writing got sloppy and lost a lot of its impact. You spent a lot of time reliving the first four episodes. Not that people playing as it came out didn’t need, just that they were recycled scenes in a empty setting. The dream sequence reused so many assets to cut costs. The pacing was a mess, and I lost every bit of suspense that I the game had carefully built for me in episode four.
The real problem with episode five was that it betrayed us, the player. We were led to expect so much of this game, and we were let down. At least, I was. And I know it could have gone so much worse, and I do think the ending was “good enough,” but the first four fifths of this game were better that “good enough.” The other episodes were great, with spots of amazing and touches of true art. But, just like a good photo can be ruined by bad editing, so was Life is Strange ruined by a rushed ending.
I’m going to talk about the tornado now. The tornado, the natural disasters, the astronomical anomalies, it all felt like an afterthought, put in to create false tension. Imagine this: you go to the bathroom episode one, see Chloe die, and rewind time. You save her again in episode two, three, four and so on. As the game progresses, Chloe gets more and more depressed and hateful. She feels like she doesn’t belong in this world, like she’s being passed by. She almost beyond saving emotionally. You play saving her from this and that, but in order to save her at the end you need to truly connect with her, inspire her, make her happy like in her youth. Otherwise, she gets harder and harder to save like Kate Marsh. The ending is still binary, she lives or dies, but now the entire game before it matters! You have degrees of failure or success! If she dies, depressed and beyond saving like she was when you go to save William, you are able to accept it. If you save her, you feel overwhelming success and happiness.
I’m not saying the game should have gone like that (although, tell me if you like it or not), what I’m saying is that my ending had no tornado, and was basically the same, maybe even better. I think the guys started making the real ending, the one some of us wanted, and I believe this beautiful game deserved. They were maybe half way done, and someone either thought it was bad or thought it wouldn’t sell and it got scrapped. The team rushed out the best they could given the time and we, the audience, were Polarized by it.
Whew. I need a breather. Here’s some comments on gameplay. This game played much better than I expected from a narrative game, but it had some issues. Let’s ditch the fetch quests and the long conversations that need to be rewinded multiple times. Let’s make the David/Jefferson encounter completable in one go, even if we need some hints as it plays through. Smooth out that pacing. Maybe let me build the bomb instead of finding its parts.
The character interactions were ace. Best part of the game easily, and handled masterfully. If the writing were able to keep up, that would be even better, but it works fine either way. I’m a huge fan of the Janitor, the fact that I made friends with Victoria the tsundere, and the fact that us males were well represented. (You go Warren!) I was surprised that Chloe kissed me at the end, even though I was so mean to her, but whatever. Fanservice wasn’t a real issue for this game.
Okay, here is my final score.
|5||—||Neutral Base||X||-2||Pacing Issues|
|+1||EP2||Kate Marsh||X||-1||Character Depth|
|+5||EP4||Payoff, pacing||X||-2||Low Choice Impact|
Total – 6.4
To conclude, I would recommend this game to certain friends, but not everyone. To the artist, but not the brawler. The story makes up for the issues, and the ending was fine in my opinion. Both of them really. I really did enjoy my time as a girl around my age in a situation that was familiar to me. No glaring faults outside of pacing, and the last episode, both of which hurt the game in my opinion.
I welcome any thoughts, and even critiques so feel free to leave a comment. Remember though, this is mostly my opinion, it’s not meant as attack or praise to the reader or the game. Thank you for your time.