This life that we lead isn't normal. It's odd, eccentric, shifting, or strange perhaps? Yes indeed, and while that fact may be true, the protagonist of Life is Strange, Max (Maxine) is certainly experiencing that truth more than ever. Of course, I'm getting ahead of myself. Let's back up for a moment, shall we? For starters, Life is Strange is an episodic game much like the Telltale Games we've seen coming out lately. Just like those games, we receive them in bite-sized chunks until the series is complete.
The developer, DONTNOD Entertainment, has only done one other game before and it wasn't something you'd forget if you played it. It was called Remember Me (that's the joke) and while it wasn't a critical success, I for one thought it was very unique. A little clunky, but unique. So, with five episodes planned and the promise of a new one every six weeks, it's time to delve into what we've seen thus far and build towards a final score. Let's get started!
Episode Five: Polarized Review + Final Score - The Journey, or the Destination?
SPOILERS FROM EPISODE 1-4 FOLLOW! Scroll down to see previous episode reviews. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED!
Ladies and gentlemen, it has been a hella journey this far with Max Caufield, Chloe, and the other characters of Life is Strange. The final episode is here and the journey is over. It's bittersweet and while it could have been better, ending something like this is not easy.
Episodes 1-4 built up a story that had plenty of twists and turns. Depending on your choices, people have lived, died, or even come back. Don't you just love time travel? In a nutshell, the final episode of Life is Strange tries to wrap up all these loose ends, and ultimately ends up making a lot of your decisions feel hollow as a result.
That's a big issue in a game that lives and dies based on its choices, but it's also arguably par for the course in a game centered around time travel. After all, altering time has a funny way of nullifying certain events or timelines, so it's easy to erase entire things by changing something else.
A Story Told in Circles
Without spoiling this final episode, if we look at Life is Strange up until this point, the story has inevitably turned around on itself a few times while Max tries to figure out how to fix things without breaking them even more.
Beyond a few major moments involving some main characters, Max has also been altering weather and animal patters, along with a few other odd events as a result of her meddling with time. While this is typically explained away with Chaos Theory, it would have been nice to know more about why these things were happening.
Then of course we all recall the vision from the very first episode where a giant tornado was coming to destroy Arcadia Bay. That's kind of taken a backseat to other events throughout the series, but it gets addressed here.
Followers of the series will know that Max's ability to jump into the time periods of Polaroid photos has been used to right more than a few wrongs, and that ability gets used to its fullest extent in this final episode.
While past episodes has a good chunk of major decisions and a few puzzles, Polarized really just kind of holds your hand and shows you through it. There are a few cool moments that use Max's time powers, but a lot of it is just sitting by and watching things play out, which would be fine, if it weren't for the fact that a lot of these things don't really connect to earlier events in the series.
Part of this comes from the fact that certain events have been nullified as a result of your time jumping, but part of it just comes from the developers wanting to get this story finished and tie up the major loose ends. It doesn't feel rushed per se, but it does feel like it could have been a better finale.
The ending especially will leave a lot of people, well, polarized for lack of a better word. Life is Strange has had this uphill climb where the story got crazier and crazier with each episode. When everything is said and done, it just kind of fizzles out. I don't want to dissuade people from playing the game, in fact, the ending(s) do tell a kind of age old truth about time travel, but in the sense of providing us with meaningful closure, I felt none of the options hit the mark.
Personally, as a writer myself, I felt like Life is Strange dug itself into a hole that it couldn't escape from by the season's end. It had all of these dangling strings and interwoven possibilities that the only way to really resolve anything was to end the game the way they did.
It hurts that the final resolution wasn't as satisfying as the journey it took to get there, but even with this sour taste in my mouth at the ending, I still can safely say that I've never played anything quite like Life is Strange. Would I have enjoyed a more fleshed out conclusion and more endings based on my choices? Absolutely, but what is here is still a marvel of how games can continue to bring us new experiences and stories.
Max Caufield, I Hardly Knew Ye
Max Caufield and her best friend Chloe are characters that will stick with you. Their journey may not be one that ended the best way it could, or in the most cohesive fashion, but it is a journey well worth taking. I laughed, I cried, and I waited for each episode with bated breath.
This is an incredibly unique series, one that is absolutely worth the price of entry. There are countless $60 games that don't come anywhere near close to this level of quality in both the characters and the story. Throw on the unique setting, and the time travel powers, and you have an experience that demands your attention.
I honestly hope we see more of Max Caufield, maybe even a season two? It's hard to say, but despite a few bumps and a less than stellar ending, I wouldn't trade my time in Arcadia Bay for anything.
Final Score (for the whole series): 9.0/10
For a more thorough breakdown (including reviews of prior episodes) be sure to check out our other reviews below this one!
Episode Four: Dark Room Review - On the Eve of Darkness
Mild Spoilers from Episodes 1-3 follow! YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
Life is strange is a hard game to review. I say that not because I have to wait months between episodes, but because it's so very different than almost anything I've played. Yeah, big decisions have become the norm in gaming lately, and time travel has always been around, but combining the two to rewrite something you did, or use information you didn't know? That's a game changer.
On top of that, take a look at the setting: an art school in a small town, with a main character who could be classified as a "hipster" that can control time? You've never played anything exactly like it, never in this combination. The first two episodes of the game we're good. Not mind-blowing, but good.
Then you get to episode three and that monstrous ending (which I won't go into detail about) and suddenly the game went from "solid" to "game of the year contender." How do you top something like that? What could DONTNOD do to possibly reconcile that twist? The answer, as it turns out, is episode four: Dark Room.
Image via Serious Audiences Only
Time Travel in a Nutshell: Trying to Fix Things, and Making Them Worse
Apparently time travel doesn't like being messed with, as we saw in the conclusion of episode 3. Even so, Max seeks a way to fix what she's done, and while progress is made, we continue to see strange and scientifically impossible events happening that showcase just how badly Max's power is messing with the fabric of the universe.
Science-fiction shows up in episode four, along with some serious answers and developments on mysteries that have been stewing for the last three episodes. Anyone who has played the first episode knows about the ongoing mystery of Rachel Amber's disappearance. In episode four, it's time to find out what happened. Max puts on her detective hat in this episode, resulting in one of the coolest sleuthing experiences I've had in a game.
This results in more complex puzzles that require a little more thought, but not too much that you're ripping out your hair, then rewinding time so you don't go bald. The dialogue and writing are far more focused this time around, adding to the excellent pacing of the episode's events. This is no walk in the park like the first couple episodes. This is an edge-of-your-seat thrill ride into some of the darkest places the series has dared to go, and it's awesome.
All of this culminates in an ending that is even more shocking than episode three's cliffhanger. I don't know how that's possible, but it happened. DONTNOD, get cracking on that finale, it can't come soon enough.
I Think You Know Where This is Going
We're coming up on the final episode of Life is Strange, and the ultimate conclusion of our adventures with Max Caulfield, at least for now. While it's not time to settle on a final score, I think by now I can tell you if this game is worth playing at the very least. Yes, a thousand times yes! This is a step forward for gaming in so many ways I can't even count them.
You owe it to yourself as a gamer, as an appreciator of art, hell, as a human being, to play this game! Innovation and creativity should be rewarded, and DONTNOD deserves every sale they get. Just gotta hold out for that finale now!
Episode Three: Chaos Theory Review - For Every Action, a Consequence
It goes without saying, but this review contains SPOILERS From the previous episode. If you haven't play episode one or two yet, scroll to the bottom to see their respective reviews!
So let's throw this out there, the ending of episode two was intense. It showed us that not only are Max's powers limited, but our choices matter. Depending on how your play through went, Kate Marsh is either alive, or dead. For me I was able to coax her off the building thanks to some handy advice from my girlfriend throughout the first two episodes. The crazy thing was, everything mattered.
I reminded Kate that I answered her when she called. I reminded her that I stopped the school security guard from harassing her, I reminded her of all these things that didn't seem too important in the moment, but with her teetering on the edge of death, suddenly everything mattered. Depending on how things played out, the environment of the school is vastly different.
Image via Gamerant
Time Travel Always Has Consequences
In my game, Max was a hero going into episode 3. She saved Kate's life, and everyone loves her for doing so. This initial tone leads into the episode 3's focus on pushing the story forward in terms of Nathan Prescott and other threads like Chloe's missing friend. The pacing is intentionally dialed back for a good portion of the episode, but it allows the dynamic between Chloe and Max to finally start blossoming.
We learn more about them, and the type of friendship they have. One particular scene involves breaking into the school after hours for some good old fashioned shenanigans and a fancy use of Max's ability. Emotionally, episode 3 allows you to breathe for a bit, which is good, because other similar games like those seen by Telltale tend to layer on the feels to the point where you're exhausted from making so many split-second choices.
After the first two episodes though, we know something big is coming. I mean, come on, you can't expect to manipulate the fabric of space-time and not face any consequences. Ever heard of the Butterfly Effect? It's a concept that essentially encompasses Chaos Theory in general. Everything we do can affect the world around us in big ways. In particular, this effect refers to the concept that a butterfly can flap its wings in one part of the world, and that slight change in wind currents can eventually lead to a hurricane striking somewhere else in a different part of the world.
It sounds ridiculous, but that's just how unpredictable our actions can be. Life is Strange has been hinting at this through odd events like the sudden snow at the end of the first episode, then in episode 2 an eclipse spontaneously occurred. Events like dead birds on a lawn, and other small things build us towards the inevitable truth that time travel is not something to be messed with.
Case and point, the story starts to move faster toward the end of the episode, resulting in Max discovering a brand new ability that completely changes the game. It is this ability that drives her to make a rash decision that we are forced to go along with. The episode leaves us on a cliffhanger that is equal parts shocking, and disheartening. I won't spoil it of course, but it changes the whole story in a way that in the moment makes you feel defeated and taken advantage of.
We'll discuss this more in episode 4's review when I see where this twist leads. In the meantime, let's talk about how the gameplay evolved in episode 3.
Moving Forward Despite Going Back
While the nature of Max's power is rewinding time, Life is Strange has several established mechanics that keep you from reviewing or listening to conversations you've already heard. In episode 2, many of the puzzles were repetitive or downright boring, which put a damper on the gameplay. Case and point, the puzzles in episode 3 rely more on objects traveling with Max through time, an ability that blows Chloe's mind apparently.
While we've passed the halfway point and the gameplay has been slowly diversifying and growing, the writing still manages to be awkward at times, and the lip sync has stayed comfortably within the realm of mediocrity. Still, despite these things, the improved gameplay and the constantly engrossing story is keeping me coming back every time.
The ending of episode 3 has me worried though. It was a great twist to be sure, but what does it mean for episodes 4 and 5? The only people that can answer that question are somewhere far away working hard to build the next episode so all I can say for now is stay tuned. I can say with a high degree of confidence though that this game is certainly worth playing, especially if you're a fan of Telltale's work or if you just love amazing story-driven games in general.
Keep this page bookmarked and expect a review of Episode 4 when it releases!
Episode Two: Out of Time Review - There's Always Limits
There will be MILD SPOILERS as we move into later episodes. In other words, don't read episode 2's review if you didn't play the first episode. YOU HAVE BEEN WARNED
I really enjoyed the first episode of Life is Strange, but it left me wanting more. Max's time traveling ability was awesome to use, but I didn't feel any major effects or consequences as a result of my actions. After all, I could just rewind the clock and see the other side. Many options presented clear "this is good" and "this is bad" scenarios.
Well, apparently DONTNOD was just getting things all nice and tidy with episode one so they could be that kid in kindergarten that knocks down your tower and makes a huge mess. I mean that in a good way. Where episode one was lacking in major consequences and set pieces, episode two delivers in spades.
Many of the events from the first episode are also evolving as you play through episode 2. For example, this episode focuses a lot of Kate Marsh, a girl who you could or could not have made friends with in the first episode. Your reputation with her, along with other characters, will come into play. Things like how you chose to handle her altercation with the school's security guard will also come into play.
Your loyalty is tested too. Remember the scene in the first episode involving you potentially taking a dive for your friend Chloe? You'll be asked again if you were telling the truth, multiple times in fact. I'll stop there with the specific examples, but as you can see, decisions from the first episode start to have a ripple effect in this latest chapter.
Image via Gamespew
The powers you have still function in a normal fashion, but in this episode we're treated to a new plot thread where Max's nose will bleed if she uses her powers too much. This has you asking what the limits are, and if these powers could kill her.
Some scientific theories are also thrown around, which I personally enjoyed immensely. Your geeky friend will email you about things like wormholes, chaos theory, and other time traveling theories to help you understand your powers better.
Chloe and Max's relationship is developed much more this time around as well. The moments you share with her do a good job of helping build that believable bond that makes us thing we're hanging out with our childhood best friend.
The stakes also also much, MUCH higher this time around, with several scenarios that will have you gripping the controller until your knuckles glow white. While some choices are easy to see, others have very fuzzy potential to bite you back later on no matter which side you choose. The tension that comes from a choice that has no clear answer is where Life is Strange episode 2 shines.
The culmination of your choices and of the episode's events also brings everything to a gut wrenching conclusion. I won't say anything more than that, but be prepared to witness all of the choices you've made thus far in the first two episodes come back to haunt you in some meaningful ways.
My only complaints with episode two of Life is Strange are minimal. For one, the episode had some very forced puzzle segments and fetch quests that, while interesting, felt out of place in such a narrative driven experience. It kind of put the brakes on the pacing and derailed the story momentarily.
Beyond that, some of the dialogue was a little inconsistent in terms of the mood and emotion, but these are small gripes with what was overall a very solid second act. The only other thing I can say is that I want episode 3 to come out on time, you hear me DONTNOD?
Until that time, stay tuned to PS4 Experts for our ongoing reviews of each episode, culminating in a final score!
Episode One: Chrysalis Review - The Cocoon of Youth
The name of this episode sets the mood to begin with. As the title of an insect's pupa stage, we join our main character, Maxine Caulfield, as she herself is in the awkward stages between teenager and adult. Having recently returned to her home of Arcadia in Oregon after a five-year stint in Seattle with her family, Max is back to her stomping grounds to attend a renowned art school for photography.
It's a normal setup, but it doesn't stay that way. From the beginning, DONTNOD introduces us to a real and relateable character who also happens to buck the trends of mostly male protagonists. While this isn't the time or place to discuss or dispute the gap of gender representation in gaming, I for one think Life is Strange would not have worked from any other perspective.
This game proves that female protagonists can be done with both class and taste. The creation of a character is something that flows with the story. An awkward teenage boy, like any of the characters in the game, wouldn't have worked as well as a girl who is trying to find her place in the world.
Max's unique perspective is charged with an emotion that only the young female perspective could provide. Teenage boys around this age tend to think in a manner of duality, black and white if you will, while a young girl like Max sees things in more methodical and detailed fashions.
It almost makes sense for her to have time travel because any girl her age would naturally analyze these types of scenarios from not only their perspective, but from others, and mix them with potential implications of such a decision. After all, women are complicated (in a good way) and a character like this, trying to fit in, has the most complex emotions of all.
So with a new found power and an interesting premise, let's see how this first episode panned out.
A Story both New and Familiar
Some people may write off Max as a hipster. I mean, she goes to art school, purposefully uses an analog Polaroid camera, and doodles in her journal. Like I said, you may write her off as an angst filled teenage hipster, but I think my girlfriend put it perfectly while we were playing when she said, "a hipster is just someone immersed in a previous time period, who wasn't a part of it, but still walks, talks, and acts like they were."
At best they have interesting fashion styles, at worst they are displaced in time and desperate to discover time travel so they can go back to where they belong. Hey, speaking of time travel, Max just so happens to discover very early on that she can rewind time to a small extent.
This revelation comes with a vision of something terrible that is coming, and Max also discovers some corruption within the school she attends. On top of this, there are plenty side stories to uncover as the world allows (and encourages) exploration.
Max also reunites with a childhood friend of hers in the game that has changed significantly. What I loved is the dynamic between them. Two people, in very different stages of their lives, trying desperately to recapture those things that made them so close in the past. It's awkward, tense, and even weird at times, but it feels authentic.
There's a lot of real issues at play here, issues that many people deal with in their own lives, but it's all wrapped in a shell of supernatural intrigue. The ability that Max has to go back in time and change things is not only amazing from a story perspective (because it allows you to see all of the possible outcomes and change the past) but it also offers up some unique gameplay elements.
Wait, Let's do That Again
DONTNOD clearly had some inspiration from Telltale Games, and why not? Their recent projects like Tales from the Borderlands have been nothing less than awesome. Still, even though the concept of an episodic series like this one isn't completely new, it's been working well for the other guys. Life is Strange goes farther than dialogue choices and it replaces the quick time events we know and love from its inspiration, and switches them out with the aforementioned time travel ability.
The way it works in the game is simple but incredibly effective. At any point after it's been introduced you can trigger the ability to rewind a specific decision or a certain amount of time if you like. Anything you've gathered item-wise, or any knowledge you've learned will stay with you, which allows for some twisting and turning to get what you want out of the situation. For example, say someone asks you a question and you get it wrong. When they correct you, you can rewind the moment and this time, give them the correct solution.
That's a simple example, the game goes beyond that to really take advantage of the ability to give you more than just the decisions you see before you. You may be thinking that this could make the game impossible to finish since you'll have control to constantly go back, but the developers cleverly decided to notify you that when you leave an area, all decisions made there are set in stone and will have consequences.
There is one major flaw I have with this game, and it's something most other reviews will touch upon. While the writing and acting can sway into awkward at times, the lip sync on them in the game does not match up with what they are saying.
This could be a lost in translation as a result of the developer's French roots, but I don't recall such issues in Remember Me, so I'm honestly not sure what the reason is. If you don't focus on it, it's not a huge deal, but from an immersion standpoint, it's difficult to sink into the scene fully when the lips aren't matching the words.
This first episode doesn't have the bombastic action or the hardcore music of other modern games, but it does have a great new gameplay style, awesome music, and a character that acts like someone her age, and in her situation, should. It's hard to create an authentic character, but Life is Strange proves that new ideas are out there, and they deserve to be noticed.
Stay tuned to PS4 Experts as we continue to play and review each episode when it's released. A final score will be awarded when the series is finished. Until then, at least try the demo, you'll be surprised how unique it is.
Article by - Bradley Ramsey
Insert Date: 6/08/15