game thoughts – Life is Strange (2015)

‘Life is Strange’ is a game that I remember coming out, but never really understanding what the deal was. From a distance, it looked like some kind of choose-your-own-teen-drama. It had a big publisher behind it – Square Enix, known for action oriented games like Final Fantasy – but this game appeared to be something completely different, yet the brand behind it got it pushed to the front page of the online game stores, using the monthly episode drops to spotlight it again.

But this game became a touchstone for a lot of people and I continued to hear about it over and over – Luke Westaway of OutsideXtra adores it, Johnny Chiodini praises it, and Spenser Starke cited it as inspiration for Alice is Missing, a tabletop role-playing game I adore. It was clear I needed to play this game, if only to better grasp the inspiration for these three people I admire and I needed to play it quick before I got spoiled.

With the release of another game in the series scheduled for the Fall of this year, I figured now was the best time to start my play-through – heck, Steam was practically giving them away with the entire season less than $5. I had no more excuses.

Playing ‘Life is Strange’ now, in 2021, is quite an experience because even though it has only existed for 6 years, you can tell the impact it had on games and storytellers. Within moments of the first episode, I could see every homage that Spenser Starke put into Alice is Missing – from the set up to the soundtrack. Luke and Johnny are very empathic people and the emotions of this story run deep and I understood why they loved it so much.

I don’t want to spoil the game for anyone else who hasn’t played (unless I am the last person…which honestly seems about right) so I won’t mention any details but in broad strokes I can say that I think the game still holds up well. The controls are a little clunky when you’re playing on PC+mouse rather than using a game pad. But otherwise the story is still interesting as, being a teenager, no matter what decade, is always a frustrating experience.

What I really like about the game is that it doesn’t hold you hand. At the end of each episode, it compares your choices with those of your friends and other players. There were things in that list that I didn’t even find in my first play-through, not realizing that, while it felt like it was kind of on rails, there were moments I could have walked around more an explored the campus or the house.

The mystery kept me guessing though and the last three episodes went much quicker to me than the first two, which had a lot of character and set up. I did audibly gasp a few times during the reveals, with the plot unfolding with just the right beats and the game design going from you controlling the character to taking over for you and you sense that you have no choice but to go a certain way, even though you’re dreading it.

I think I did miss out on some of the fun by not playing the game as episodes were released. This felt like suck a gimmick back in the 2010s that it might have been another reason I kind of ignored the game for so long. But thinking about how much discussion must have happened between episodes…it makes me think of watching tv shows and having to wait a week between episodes, that whole layer of fandom that can make something more exciting

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