The sleeper hit of 2015 returns
While watching the Director’s Commentary video that comes with every copy of the Life is Strange Limited Edition, I was overwhelmed by the deep devotion and sheer passion the development team at Dontnod Entertainment poured into this ground-breaking graphic adventure game. At the time of its original release on digital platforms in January last year, the company had a lot to prove; not only did their first console project (the PS3/Xbox 360 action game Remember Me) meet with mixed reviews, but Life is Strange was fundamentally very different from that game, so we didn’t know quite what to expect.
Six months later, Life is Strange sold its one millionth copy, a huge, loyal community had formed around the game, and major award nominations started rolling in. The co-directors on the project, Raoul Barbet and Michel Koch, appear overwhelmed by the positive response from gamers in their commentary, and rightfully so—Life is Strange was a clear runaway success.
Release Date: January 19, 2015
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Episodic adventure
ESRB Rating: M (Mature, 17+)
A heartfelt, emotional episodic adventure
If you’ve yet to experience the rich story of Life is Strange, let me explain what it’s is all about. The story centres on Max Caufield, an introverted photographer who returns to her hometown of Arcadia Bay, after a five year absence, to finish her schooling at Blackwell Academy. Not long into her journey, Max discovers her ability to rewind time while saving her best friend Chloe Price from a lifethreatening situation. After coming to terms with her new powers, Max, along with Chloe, begin investigating the mysterious disappearance of Rachel Amber, a fellow student at Blackwell Academy that went missing some time ago.
This story-driven experience unfolds in a similar manner to hit Telltale Games franchises, like The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones, requiring you to make tough choices (and seemingly innocuous ones) that can reverberate throughout the remainder of the story. However, while Telltale stories are often criticized as following roughly the same path no matter your decisions, in Life is Strange the butterfly effect of your actions can be very significant and alter the story in dramatic ways. This is a game where every decision must be thought through carefully, as your choices play a key role in how the narrative unfolds.
The first episode of Life is Strange gives you a basic introduction to Max, key characters around Blackwell Academy, including her teacher and principal, and notable schoolmates that all seem to fit various archetypes like the mean girl, sports jock, bookworm, and dorky boyfriend. Once you hit the second episode the story really hits its stride as you go out and explore Arcadia Bay, to learn about the town and some of the dark secrets it hides. It’s a really captivating story overall, thanks in part to the excellent voice acting from characters like Max (Hannah Telle) and Chloe (Ashly Burch), as well as the unique hand-drawn art style that brings this world to life.
The ability to control time
With Max’s power to manipulate time comes great responsibility. In a neat twist to the tried-and-true branching storyline formula, should you have second thoughts about your decisions, you can often (but not always) rewind time to take an alternate route. This gives you the chance to see the immediate outcome of your choices, and undue them if you don’t like the results. However, you can only rewind time a few minutes back, so beyond that your decisions are locked-in.
There are a lot of clever tricks you can learn to shape the narrative in your desired direction. For instance, if Max sees a character stepping into danger, you can rewind time to warn them and keep them safe. Even more interesting, if Max learns a particular piece of information, you can sometimes rewind time and use this foreknowledge to your advantage. I won’t get into any specific examples to avoid spoilers, but I will say that exploring inventive ways to control time was easily a major highlight of this game.
Limited Edition: for long-time fans and newcomers alike
The tremendous fan support during the game’s digital release was the impetus behind Dontnod and Square Enix’s decision to release the Life is Strange Limited Edition. This deluxe box set contains all five chapters on disc, along with a collection of bonus items that take you behind-the-scenes for an in-depth look at the art, music, and ideas that made all this possible. If you’ve already played the game, and want to explore its rich universe further, you’ll love what this definitive version has to offer. Or, if you’ve been waiting to play, there’s no better way to experience this epic adventure than this complete package.
|Life is Strange Official Soundtrack|
|1. Syd Matters – ‘To All Of You’|
|2. José González – ‘Crosses’|
|3. Angus & Julia Stone – ‘Santa Monica Dream’|
|4. Sparklehorse – ‘Piano Fire’|
|5. alt-J – ‘Something Good’|
|6. Local Natives – ‘Mt. Washington’|
|7. Bright Eyes ‘Lua’|
|8. Mogwai – ‘Kids Will Be Skeletons’|
|9. Amanda Palmer – ‘In My Mind’ (feat. Brian Viglione)|
|10. Message To Bears ‘Mountains’|
|11. Breton – ‘Got Well Soon’|
|12. Mud Flow – ‘The Sense of Me’|
|13. Foals – ‘Spanish Sahara’|
|14. Syd Matters – ‘Obstacles’|
|15. Jonathan Morali – ‘Golden Hour’|
|16. Jonathan Morali – ‘The Storm’|
|17. Jonathan Morali – ‘Blackwell Academy’|
|18. Jonathan Morali – ‘Kate’|
|19. Jonathan Morali – ‘Timeless’|
|20. Jonathan Morali – ‘Timelines’|
|21. Jonathan Morali – ‘Night Walk’|
|22. Jonathan Morali – ‘Max & Chloe’|
When you first hold the Life is Strange Limited Edition in your hand you’ll immediately notice the weight of the package, which has a strong, solid feel to it. There are a lot of items inside that make up this weight, including most prominently a copy of the game on disc—the first time a physical version of game has ever been released. If you’re a collector, or prefer your games on physical formats, this is your chance to own this superb title on disc. From a practical standpoint, you can also install and play through all five episodes of the game, with no waiting months between episodes like the digital version. With this being a story-driven adventure, being able to play through Life is Strange one episode after another was a nice perk and great for continuity.
Also inside the package is a gorgeous 32-page hard cover art book that includes never before released concept art. It’s presented like a scrap book, displaying beautiful hand-drawn portraits of main characters, oil painting-esque shots of iconic locations around Arcadia Bay (the game’s location), along with newspaper clippings, doodles, and other neat drawings. Next, you’ll find the full Life is Strange soundtrack on compact disc, featuring 14 licensed tracks, plus the original score by Jonathan Morali. Keeping with the overall tone of the story, the majority of the 22 tracks (list on the right) are soft, melodic indie folk songs, with my favourites being Syd Matters ‘To All Of You’, alt-J’s ‘Something Good’, and José González’s ‘Crosses’. If electronic beats are more your thing, Breton’s thumping ‘Got Well Soon’ is also on disc, and when it’s time to relax, Jonathan Morali’s soothing tunes will hit the spot.
Life is Strange is a phenomenial graphic adventure game that shouldn’t be missed by fans of the genre. It tells an emotional journey of a young girl given the extraordinary power to rewrite history, for better or for worse, based entirely upon your decisions. The Life is Strange Limited Edition is the definitive version with great extras including a 32-page full colour art book, the full 22-track musical soundtrack, and bonus Director’s Commentory to give you insight into how they created the game. If you haven’t tried Life is Strange, or have and want to own the ultimate edition, do yourself a favourite and check out the Limited Edition version.
+ A wonderfully crafted story
+ Choices matter
+ Presentation is great: top-notch voice acting and distinct hand-drawn graphics
+ Beautiful musical score
+ Art book contains never before seen concept art
+ Director’s Commentary takes you behind the scenes
+ First time available on disc
– Story doesn’t really open up until Episode 2
– Sometimes you may not understand the impact of your choices until it’s too late
Lasting Appeal/Replayability: 4.5/5
Overall Rating 4.1/5 (82%)