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Life is Strange Ep. 1 review: Finding the strange in everyday life

Hayden Dingman | Feb. 2, 2015
There's something refreshing about not being asked to save the world.

There's something refreshing about not being asked to save the world.

I mean, don't worry. Life is Strange, the new adventure game from Dontnod Entertainment (Remember Me), gets around to the whole "save the world" thing eventually. Well, "save the town," at least. There's a storm coming. Literally.

But much of what makes the first episode of Life is Strange so endearing is that the stakes are low. You play as Maxine "Max" Caulfield, a teenage girl living in the Pacific Northwest. As such, your problems are, well, teenage girl problems for the most part.

Will I retain my scholarship to the elite photography academy I'm attending? Will my teacher find out I kind of have a crush on him? Will I submit something to this photo contest he wants me to enter? Will I get caught smoking pot?

Will people like me?

Unlike us normal people, Max has some help navigating life, though. When Life is Strange starts, she realizes she can actually rewind time (for whatever reason). She stays in the same place, retaining any knowledge gained and any items she's carrying. Everyone else rewinds to an earlier position.

There are some weird implications to this — What does someone think if they were standing, looking at Max, and then suddenly she just disappears? Like any time travel story short of Primer, it's best to just ignore those concerns and roll with it though.

As a player, Max's new ability is used for a bit of light puzzle-solving, but mostly as a twist on the "[Blank] will remember that" choice-making in Telltale's adventure games. Now you can make a decision, see what the short-term consequences are, rewind, make the other decision, see it play out, and repeat ad nauseam. Your decision is only locked when you leave the area.

Life is Strange uses this to screw with you. We were given a primer on some upcoming scenarios in Episode 2, so I know a bit about how certain choices will play out later. Suffice it to say, the short-term consequences don't always reflect the long-term consequences. You might think you've done the "right thing," but that choice may come back to haunt you later.

But again, these choices are so mundane. And I don't mean that in a bad way. It's refreshing to play a game where "Do I take the fall for my friend's pot habit?" is a world-ending scenario in and of itself — where characters are concerned more with "slice of life" issues than our typical "slice some throats" power-fantasy.

I got sick of comparing things to Juno a long time ago, but Life is Strange clearly fits into the same bucket: Small-town girl with teenage girl issues, handwritten aesthetic, indie folk soundtrack. It's like if Telltale made a Juno game, sort of.

 

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