Life Is Strange – A Much Needed Change
Eh eh? See what I did with the title?? PURE GENIUS wouldn’t you agree?
Hehe… well horrifically bad jokes deserving of a hanging aside… I’ve been meaning to write a post about DontNod’s Life Is Strange. But other than just telling you why I love the game, I tried to think of ways to write a more meaningful, in-depth post. But long story short I can’t so I’m going to just tell you why I like this game! So, to start off, Life Is Strange is a game that would fit today’s ‘Walking Simulator’ games category. This puts it alongside familiar titles like Dear Esther, Anna and Gone Home, inferring that the style and gameplay are extremely similar. However, I would like to argue; it simply is not. The primary thing that captured my attention to Life Is Strange is yup you guessed it! The Characters. Now; I’m aware I’m not getting any younger here but maybe I talked about the idea of characters being one of the most important elements to a narrative of any kind; if not THE most important. To bring you up to speed, the game centers around 2 primary characters: Max and Chloe, two best friends who had spent 5 years apart from each other and have recently reconnected in the small town of Arcadia Bay. Now, I’ll be honest with you, that alone; was enough to get me interested in playing this game. Like literally, that was enough. The whole time-travelling ability that Max: the player character has, is simply a bonus to the gameplay for me. Max is able to wind time back, but only a finite amount of time, we’re talking the last couple of sentences she said – not going back to when she was still crawling :).
Now, I’m going to stop harping on about the story line as I highly suggest you purchase the game yourself or perhaps watch a playthrough of it if you’d like to know more!
I want to talk to you about just how much of a surprise this title was. Back in 1998 when I was about 9 years old, (10 years to young) playing Metal Gear Solid on the PlayStation 1 Yes… the PS1… I honestly thought that they were the best written characters I had seen, accompanied by a story so intricately woven it would bring tears to a glass eye. I fell in love with Metal Gear so much that that’s what got me into the whole character development / games design career career in the first place. People claim that the writing in The Last of Us is amazing and out of this world, but I would like to argue that you know, something might’ve just swept the carpet from underneath them.
Mike! Are you mad?? You’re saying that the hundreds of critics out there who reviewed The Last of Us were wrong??
NOPE. I’m saying that although The Last of Us was truly amazing; I’m feeling more of a connection with this game. Be it from feelings of total elation and seeing the smile on the faces of the characters you interact with, immense feelings of the Titanic sinking in your stomach when faced with tough choices to make or just taking 5 minutes to take a deep breath after a tense situation. There’s not been a game that’s made me feel like that for a long, long time. Off the top of my head, some who have got close have been The Last of Us, Heavy Rain, Metal Gear Solid and the likes. The games previously mentioned have usually featured a protagonist that has some kind of extroadinary circumstance attributed to them. For example, Metal Gear Solid features the Legendary solider-clone Solid Snake, unmatched in both stealth and combat skills. The Last of Us puts players in the center of a world in chaos from an outbreak of a cordyceps. Heavy Rain throws a father into exceptional circumstances in order to test his love for his son.
But Mike! Max can time travel! That’s extraordinary isn’t it??
Mhm, yes I know! But remember how I mentioned at the beginning that I personally felt like that was more of a bonus purely for gameplay purposes? Like it was an accessory to the premise of what was already a thoroughly engaging storyline? Yup. I think the reason why Life is Strange has such a profound impact on me personally, and from what I’ve read on the internet; others too, is simply because it’s a story about the very-real issues and circumstances two girls could find themselves in. They could be laughing and dancing together the one minute, reminiscing about times in the past, and the next – discovering discarded pregnancy tests and syringes in dormitory bins. The world, story and premise is surprisingly uplifting and gritty at the same time it’s like a roller coaster ride that can’t decide whether to ascend or descend; either way – you’re getting one hell of a ride, or as Chloe would say:
“One hella ride!”
Frequent readers of this site will know of a character called Alice who I’ve already talked the hind legs of a donkey off about. How I personally pushed myself to make her relatable, realistic, down-to-earth, gritty, happy, black and white, for and against, and as simple and as complicated as possible. All this effort just to make players who encounter her to get frustrated with her one minute, look after her the next; want to shake her silly for her idiocy and then proceed to hug her. Why you ask? Because that’s how real human beings are. Think of a couple of good friends you’ve encountered a long the way, even those you may or may not have had a romantic attraction to, there are downs and ups to every person, every path in life. You don’t hate any of your friends so much to the point you’d never talk to them because well, you still consider them your friend, or boyfriend / girlfriend. Just the same as you would treat Alice if you felt like she could add herself to that list, and for the first time; I feel that this is finally being explored. This game isn’t afraid of letting you inside their character, letting you see what makes them tick or what makes them feel hurt – heck, you can even read Max’s diary! I may be completely off my rocker here when saying this, but I get the feeling that DontNod themselves made this their goal for Life is Strange. Their goal was to show you the dark and bright side of natural, every-day lives that folks slightly younger than me have lived, live and are living. The whole time travel thing is a core component sure, it’s woven all the way into the game, but I feel like that’s just sitting on the sidelines; waiting to be subbed in when it’s appropriate. If you think I’m completely nuts then go ahead and play through the first episode yourself, then come back and we’ll chat :). I have to say, although I’m a dude in his early twenties who yeah; didn’t exactly have the best time at high school, or at university and is still somewhat struggling today, I’m empathising with this game; more accurately I’m empathising with the characters in the game and they’re mostly girls. I’m drawing parallels with them, I’m thinking about people who I’ve met who either matched the characters to the dot or just borrowed one or two key traits. I myself; find myself finishing off Max’s sentences (and no I wasn’t just reading the subtitles!), thinking about what her next key steps would be as she carries them out before me, nodding in agreement after she’s done talking – it’s really quite a surreal experience. I certainly don’t share this experience with every character in the game, there are some there who I simply detest, who kick up hurtful personal memories and remind me of times that weren’t exactly too cheery, but you know what? That’s ok. It’s amazing that I’m getting angry at a digital character for something that didn’t even happen to me and that right there, is the key to why Life is Strange is so strangely beautiful. Now you may play this game yourself and not experience any of that with Max, fine. However, I think you’ll still know where I’m coming from. Anyone who has finished Episode 2 of Life is Strange will know just how much of a ride this game takes you for, when you start caring about a game character so much you start sweating as your hands move across the keyboard and mouse, or when you start swearing to yourself about why what is happening on-screen is happening, you know you’re hooked. David Cage, Naughty Dog and more recently Ready at Dawn have all been hell-bent on achieving this supposedly fleeting idea of a totally cinematic video game. Throwing A-list actors at the idea, having world-famous composers write the music, pushing the visuals of the game to extreme realism and still; it just… doesn’t… touch this.
And for the record, I have played Telltale’s The Walking Dead…
The word count’s hitting 1370-odd so I’m gonna end it here for now guys, but I just had to write this post. It’s been a long time coming as the game’s been out for some time now but I just honestly didn’t know how and what to write here so… I hope what you’ve read has been good for you! But honestly, it’s amazing to see that what I’ve been striving to do with my characters personally – pushing the realism in terms of their traits, personalities and quirks is so beautifully realised in what is essentially, quite a simple game made from a developer whom the world unfortunately hasn’t heard of as much as the likes of Infinity Ward etc. If you’ve got a few extra bucks laying around guys, I can definitely recommend this game to you. I cannot explain in words how this game takes you to places you didn’t think possible. It is definitely a game that will be sat at the top of my Hall of Fame for a long, long time to come. Oh and…