My first review of Life is Strange was a little silly, but in a totally complimentary sort of way. I highlighted how Life is Strange feels like an adolescent romp through a girl’s trials with peers and suburban private school life. Enter Chloe. Maxine’s life may have initially seemed benign and simple — much like Max, herself — but her life couldn’t be any stranger now. Or more tragic.
Over the course of this five-episode series, DONTNOD struggled with pacing and immersive gameplay. At times, the reliance on archetypes and cliché struggles made the whole experience feel hackneyed. I often state that a powerful end doesn’t necessarily justify a straight, well-paved journey down a mediocre road; this isn’t one of those times. Life is Strange is worth the occasional eye-roll and awful puzzle.
The entirety of Episode 5 pulls at the soul, using the series’ history as a catalyst for existential query. What matters? Is it the result of our actions? Our perception of who we are — who our friends are? Are we bound by fate or capable of guiding our destiny? Or is it just damn hard to fight the currents of time? Players may not be able to answer these questions depending on where they are in their lives, but this episode is a good place to start trying. For certain, though: Max is ready. She must be.
Much like a budding adolescent, Life is Strange started out pristine and innocent, fumbled around awkwardly as it learned how to move in its own body, and finally became a mature, respectable adult with something to contribute to society. Watching Max develop over these past several months has been rewarding and fulfilling. I think about who she was at the outset and who she is now, and the transition has been seamless. Max in Episode 1 could have never dealt with the issues presented in Episode 5. Now, though? Completely believable. Though she didn’t grow up on her own.
When I reflect on my excursion across Max’s pseudo-End of Evangelion journey of introspection, I don’t think too much about gameplay, as the depth of story carried far more meaning. In an experience like Episode 5, puzzles and stealthy movement feel out of place. Of course, given the structure and consistency of Life is Strange, the developers could have felt that “gameplay” was required, but, truly, these parts are easily forgotten and should be regarded as mere hurdles to the essence of this tale. As far as the quality of the gameplay in isolation of the story, the experience is ho-hum, if not forced. What the player’s required to do makes sense, but the puzzles have either been done before or add nothing to the experience. Fortunately, they’re brief.
Life is Strange has reminded me of why I find dialogue timers ridiculous. Not only has Life is Strange surpassed most of Telltale’s recent titles in terms of emotional draw, the lack of a dialogue timer enhances the closing episode. In terms of content of words, the developers use some modest creativity to immerse the player in what Max is going through. The choices maintain their appeal, but the impact of each selection is potentially excruciating.
Unfortunately, Life is Strange’s final act isn’t without flaw. Due to the powerful nature of Episode 5, facial expressions have the opportunity to pull together or hinder a gripping scene. While the art style and direction have been phenomenal, the facial expressions peek into the uncanny valley as characters’ voices and faces fall into discord with stiff movements and immobile flesh. Conversely, the music perfectly accentuates each agonizing moment perfectly. Each song seems meticulously selected to complement the moment it’s paired with while still capturing that adolescent vibe. I’ve discovered several artists whose work I will continue to explore.
If you’ve read my reviews up to this point, you know that for every accolade I’ve presented, I’ve taken issue with something. The trajectory of Life is Strange has forced me to call into question what it had planned to do when it grew up and moved out of my Steam library. It made some poor decisions and I didn’t always like the people it was spending time with, but I never gave up. Now that it’s grown up and moved on, I think about it from time to time, wistfully. I’ve never been so happy to be so sad. Best of all, I learned something about myself.