Published on February 13th, 2015 | by Chris Scott0
Life is Strange Episode One: Chrysalis Review
Summary: Something beautiful and strange.
By focusing on strong narrative and decision-making game progression instead of obtuse puzzles using rubber chickens, developers Quantic Dream and Telltale Games have revitalized the classic adventure game over the last five years. Their success, with games like Heavy Rain and The Walking Dead, have ushered in a new era of storytelling for games. To varying degrees of success, developers of all sorts are now trying to tell better and more meaningful stories through the video game medium. The latest in this long line of titles is Dontnod Entertainment’s latest effort, Life Is Strange. Much like the Telltale adventure titles before it, Life is Strange will be an episodic adventure.
Chrysalis, the first episode of five in the series, introduces us to main character Max. Max is a senior at a prestigious art school in her old hometown of Arcadia Bay. Five years prior, she moved with her family to Seattle, leaving behind her best friend Chloe, whose father had recently died. Like many kids at that age, Max is trying to find herself, surfing the fine line between fitting in and being a complete outcast. She isn’t one of the cool kids, but she isn’t a complete loner either. She has hopes and dreams for her future but worries about how she will get to where she wants and needs to go. In short, she is exactly what you would expect a teenager to be.
Max’s life is pretty tame. That is, her life is tame until she stumbles upon a confrontation in a bathroom where someone gets shot and killed. Turns out that Max has an uncanny ability to rewind time and alter prior outcomes. It is this ability that will become the crux of the game’s mechanics and the main way Max will influence the world around her. Using her newfound ability, she rewinds time to a point prior to the shooting and adjusts her actions to save the victim. This decision to alter time sends ripples throughout the game and puts Max and all those around her into a mysterious web of intrigue involving a missing student.
Max will have to use her rewind power to make changes to events. Sometimes she will have a choice in this matter; other times, the game requires the use of it from you to move forward. Because of this, the game feels somewhat less organic than the Telltale games. Still, there is sufficient undirected free-play with the mechanic and enough major decisions that have to be made by the player to give the sense that this is your playthrough than an on rails narrative.
As an introductory chapter, Chrysalis does its job. By the end I had a sense of the primary characters, a vague idea of where the story was headed, and an understanding of how to use the time mechanic to suit my needs in the game. But, most importantly, it invested me in the world.
The depiction Life is Strange delivers of Max, her classmates, her teachers, and her friends, feels realistic. My remembrance of and personal experience in high school is similar to what I experienced in the game. The constant drama over the simplest things. The cliques that engulfed nearly every person. The weird social classifications we gave each other and how everything felt so unfair because you weren’t at the top of the heap. And most of all that small selection of close friends that would do anything for you, even if it put them in danger.
Sure, some of the dialog feels forced and exaggerated to the point of sounding fake. But, to me, those cringe-worthy moments added a level of heart to the game that others often miss. These kids are trying to find themselves and a lot of what they say isn’t authentic and it is often cringe worthy. I don’t remember this solely from my personal experience as a high school kid; I recognize it as a parent of kids today.
Look, I’m a fan of mysteries, science fiction nonsense, and female protagonists. Life is Strange is steeped in all of that. Add in the solid game mechanics and some branching decisions that can affect the outcome of my story and I probably would have come out liking Life is Strange regardless. It is just the right combination of ingredients for my tastes. But it is that feeling of realism with how Max has to interact with people that really struck home with me and has me eagerly anticipating the next episode’s release. Because life is strange and it is refreshing to see such attention to that fact in a game story.