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Review: Playstation's Life is Strange series

BY CONOR MCBRIEN | FEBRUARY 05, 2015 5:00 AM

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According to Life is Strange’s PlayStation Network page, the game “sets out to revolutionize story-based choice and consequence games by allowing the player to rewind time and affect the past, present, and future.”

That statement is gutsy.

Life is Strange is from Dontnod Entertainment, a French company. This intrigued me, because the game is in the same relative genre as the work of another French game developer, Quantic Dream. 

Quantic Dream and its main creative force, David Cage, have had only one major competitor in the genre of cinematic, choice-driven games: TellTale. 

Telltale has been in the spotlight often because of the episodic releases of its games. Now that both seasons of Walking Dead and various other projects have taken the industry by storm, imitators are armed with episodic work of their own. Capcom is releasing the latest Resident Evil game in episodes, for instance, and even Quantic Dream almost got into the episodic habit with the short-lived release of Heavy Rain Chronicles several years ago.

However, that plan was dropped when Cage himself said that he didn’t want to “milk the franchise” through downloadable add-on content for 2010’s Heavy Rain. Add that Quantic Dream’s game releases are infrequent, and Telltale was sure to win the “interactive drama” arms race with sheer quantity alone.

Now, Square Enix of Final Fantasy fame is publishing Life is Strange to continue beefing up its lackluster catalogue.

Life is Strange opens with a premonition of an F-5 tornado bearing down on a coastal town in Oregon. Then, within minutes, main heroine Max Caulfield receives time-rewinding powers. I’d say the game pulls no punches in that respect, but despite the fantasy concept, it still grounds itself in Adventures of the Mundane. 

Max is accepted into a private school to pursue her passion for photography, lives in a dorm with the usual student archetypes that we as college students love (or loathe) in real life as much as we do in fiction. As Max, the player can one-up the bullies and stand up for the outcasts.

Through her powers and her quiet observations of those around her, Max builds a believable world around her small, cliquish private school and the surrounding area. 

Unlike most games that have to suffer with fake product names and boring, no-name-given-lest-we-get-sued pop-culture references, Life Is Strange drops names like crazy. Cult classic movies as obscure as Cannibal Holocaust get brought up in conversation, many different authors and photographers both alive and dead get rattled off, and websites such as Kickstarter are used as verbs rather than nouns. 

Aside from the time travel, this is probably the most realistic depiction of modern America in gaming history. The breadth of references may keep the game’s script from sounding dated years from today, and the art design might age just as well.

Speaking of, the game looks like rotoscoping through watercolor, giving it a bold color palette with elements detailed at the art team’s discretion. Gmail and Facebook pages are rotoscoped to be instantly recognizable, while some environments look like watercolor paintings in motion. 

Photography majors, definitely give Life is Strange a look. I encourage everyone else to check this game out for sure, because the first episode of this series tells me the game is going to be an interesting experience.

Life is Strange: Episode 1 is available now for PlayStation 3/4, Xbox 360/One, and Windows/Steam at $4.99. Episodes 2-5 are available as one at $16.99.


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