Video Games Weekly: Life is Strange
As promised, I am not reviewing a platform jumper this week! Hurray! I wanted to try something completely different, so I decided to play through Life is Strange.
Background: Life is Strange is an indie game that has gained a cult following since its original release in early 2015 on the PC. Life is Strange was released over the course of five “episodes” instead of all at once, which definitely helped cultivate a strong fan base. The game picked up a lot of attention at the end of 2015 when it was nominated for many Game of the Year categories. In January of this year, it was released on various consoles (all five episodes on one disc), so I played through it on my PS4.
Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One.
Rated: M. There’s gun violence, rape, slut shaming, and lots of cursing.
Single or Multiplayer: Single
Storyline: Episode One “Chrysalis” begins with a thunderous crash. The protagonist, Max (short for Maxine), wakes up in the middle of a torrential downpour next to a lighthouse. She (and you, the player) haven’t a clue how she got there, but as she walks towards the lighthouse, she witnesses a super tornado heading straight for a town. The storm is so strong, the top of the lighthouse plunges towards Max….and then she wakes up in Mr. Jefferson’s Senior Photography class. The dream was so surreal that Max decides to use the bathroom after photography class. While in the bathroom, Max witnesses a murder, but she also learns that she can manipulate time to save the victim. Oh, and that superstorm? Yeah, that’s happening in four days, and it’s up to you to figure out what to do about it.
The storyline is stunning. Characters are well-rounded, literary references, hidden agendas, questionable motivations, and each episode ends with a giant cliffhanger that makes you yell in surprise and rage. You experience so many emotions that you immediately start the next episode no matter how late it is.
Game Play: The game is “choose your own adventure”, meaning that every choice you make can have small or large consequences later in the game. Choices come in a variety of ways: you have dialogue options when talking to other characters, you can either intercept arguments that you are observing or choose to sit out of the argument, or you can make small choices like what you want for breakfast. If you made a choice that will have a consequence later in the game, a pretty butterfly appears in the top left hand corner (coughcoughBUTTERFLYEFFECTcoughcough).
There are many other video games that utilize this “choose your own adventure” style but Life is Strange turns the genre on its head with the introduction of time travel. For example, when players are given dialogue options, players can make one choice, watch how the person they are talking to react, then “rewind” time and select another option for a different reaction. Players can do this infinitely, and you can use your power to really suck up to other characters in order to weasel out information. You may think this is cheating, but trust me, these choices are never easy to make even though you can rewind time. Also, the first time you play through the game, you truly don’t know the long term consequences of every action, but when you get to Episode 5, everything clicks and your brain will explode like mine did.
Okay, I’m now going to talk about the only bad part about this game. The “bad” part about this game is the lip-sync to dialogue is awful. I mean, really awful. You really have to see it to understand just how bad it is, so here is a YouTube clip of the murder in the bathroom scene that happens right at the beginning. Now, remember that the creators, Dotnod Entertainment is a small indie game development company with an equally small budget, and I’m guessing they had to make a choice (HA-HA geddit?). Either they could invest in better lip syncing to dialogue, or they could invest in really good voice actors so the dialogue sounds authentic. I think Dotnod Entertainment made the right call with investing money in voice actors because the game would fall apart if the dialogue sounded robotic. They also did players a favor by adding subtitles, so you can completely ignore the bad lip syncing by reading along with the dialogue.
One thing that I personally didn’t think was bad but many other game reviewers hated was the dialogue itself. Many complained that the creators were trying too hard to sound hip and cool, like having teenage characters use phrases like “f*ck your selfie” and “hella”. A lot of players couldn’t make it through since they didn’t think modern teenagers insert an f-bomb in every sentence, or that a teen could be as mean as Victoria (the game’s atypical bully) in real life. Well, I’ve been working with teens for over a year or so, and to me the dialog sounds exactly like how teens talk. I know “f*ck your selfie” sounds completely ridiculous to adults, but given the context in the game, I could totally see a teen bully saying it! In any case, the dialogue does get better by the time Episode 5 rolls around so if you find yourself hating it, I promise it gets better.
Audience: This game is meant for adults, but I would recommend this to junior and senior high school teens who are mature enough to handle trigger topics like rape, gun violence, and murder. I’m especially interested to hear their thoughts on the dialogue since that is the most debated part of the game.
I would also say this game is a home-run for gamers who are looking for a well-rounded female protagonist. There aren’t many games out there that have a storyline that is crafted specifically around a teenage girl!
Verdict: This is a core purchase for library collections. I also highly recommend this to librarians who do not have a lot of experience with video games but want to try them out. This game’s strength is its storyline, and the game controls are very easy to learn for beginners!
Questions? Comments? Tweet them at me!
By: Alanna Graves
About Karen Jensen, MLS
Karen Jensen has been a Teen Services Librarian for almost 30 years. She created TLT in 2011 and is the co-editor of The Whole Library Handbook: Teen Services with Heather Booth (ALA Editions, 2014).
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