Monday, January 18, 2016

Lauren on Life is Strange, 1.1 Chrysalis - Video Game Review


photo from Steam

Life is Strange, episode one, Chrysalis, has a lot of the elements I look for in video games: an interesting premise, compelling characters, depth of story, and the added bonus of a realistic female lead character.


While the writing is a little rough - the dialogue feels stilted and a little on the nose, there’s room for this to improve since this is the first of five “episodes.”


Max Caulfield is the right blend of regular (she faces the same anxieties and challenges as the average high-schooler) and remarkable. She’s quiet in class and a bit disconnected from the other students, understandable since she transferred to Blackwell Academy as a senior in order to take advantage of its notable photography program. Despite her tendency to appear shy and reserved, she has a lot going on in her thought life, providing interesting commentary and insight into the school and the characters around her as she moves through her day.



Max Caufield - from lifeisstrange.com


The fact that she was willing to transfer to a new school to pursue her passion of photography isn’t the only thing that makes her remarkable. When faced with a situation that is every school’s nightmare, a shooting in the girl’s bathroom, Max steps in to save the day by exercising an ability she didn’t even know she had: the power to undo time.


The decision shifts her outside of her comfort zone, immediately putting her on the radar of the school’s suspicious head of security and forcing her to choose between her customary anonymity and reporting part of the incident to the school’s principal. Either choice is sure to have later consequences.


I doubt there’s a single person out there who hasn’t wished that they could go back and do something over, and Max is no exception. She takes advantage of her new-found “rewind” to build relationships with the students around her, fulfilling a very common desire to be liked.


The ability to rewind doesn’t make her flippant, though. She feels every event deeply and carries the emotions and experience with her even though she erased the cause.


The first episodes hints at a couple of themes, including the imagery of the deer that seems to be associated with Max somehow and the blue butterfly that seems to go with her power, or perhaps another character - I couldn’t help but notice someone with hair that matches who ought to be important to the unfolding story, and some discussion of local Native American traditions.


Max and Chloe - from lifeisstrange.com



With about four hours of gameplay, two if you ignore all the odd items that Max can explore in her surroundings, it’s a good afternoon’s playing time, and should put the entire game at somewhere around twenty hours total. I’ll try to keep track as I play through the next episodes so I can put out a good final estimate.


The gameplay is best with a controller. I use an X-Box 360 controller with my PC since the interface for keyboard and mouse is awkward to the point that it had me frustrated. My experience improved immensely with my controller in hand.


So far, the game seems promising. I’m hoping that the clumsy dialog and (to be honest) amateurish voice acting will improve as the episodes go on so that both support the promising story that is hinted at in the aptly named Chrysalis episode. I look forward to seeing how the themes carry through the story and getting to know the characters better as the game progresses.
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