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Review: Life is Strange Episode 5

via Game Soul
via Game Soul

Life is Strange Episode 5 (Polarized) (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Square Enix

Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment


The greatest part about choice-based storytelling games is watching the effects of your hard decisions transpire into multi-dimensional stories.  Telltale Games have made a majority of these games to this day but a small studio named DONTNOD Entertainment, a Square-Enix studio, released Life is Strange’s first episode all the way back in January of this year.  The game, in similar vein to the Telltale games, gave us a game full of player choice framed within a unique story about time travel and the consequences of such a power.  Over the previous four episodes, a lot of choices had to be made and the consequences were very real…but none of this matters at the end of the series’ finale, Polarized, which is a real bummer.

via PS4 Home
via PS4 Home

Polarized takes place right after the bothersome events of the fourth episode, which provided us with probably one of the biggest plot twists of the season.  It was a twist that you couldn’t possibly see coming, no matter how hard you think about it.  Anyway, series protagonist Max Caulfield starts to realize the true nature of her powers and how messed up she has made things.  A lot of events have taken place since the first pivotal moment in Blackwell Academy’s bathroom with Chloe and Nathan, and things have only gotten worse.  Max starts to ponder if all of this is her fault.  Are her powers, which seemed good at the time, actually hurting people more than helping them?  That is the question that is thrown around constantly during the duration of the finale.

It makes way for a satisfying and very reflective finale.  The consequences of her decisions make her ponder if she is making the right choices.  Exploring these situations leads her to travel between different realities, desperately trying to find the right choice that makes everything right, the choice that makes everything normal again.  Obviously, traveling between a number of different realities in time leads to some adverse mental and physically effects on Max, causing her to break down after a while.

via VG24/7
via VG24/7

Finally, all of the time and reality travelling catches up to Max, putting her in a nightmare like sequence that pretty much takes us to the end of the episode.  Although these psychological and often times pretty dark sequences make for some great moments (At one point Max is sitting in a snow globe on the mantle in Chloe’s house staring at herself as a young child.  Pretty powerful stuff.), a lot of the gameplay during these moments was pretty frustrating.  There’s a weird portion of the nightmare where you have to sneak your way through a series of hallways, locker rooms, and outdoor areas on the way to the distant lighthouse.  Characters like Mr. Jefferson, Nathan, and the principal (among others), are trying to look for you with flashlights.  Avoiding the lights was pretty frustrating and I just found myself spamming the time rewind button in order to make it the end goal.  It stopped being fun after a while and turned into an actual nightmare.

Perhaps the most disappointing thing about the episode was the final decision at the end.  I DON’T WANT TO SPOIL ANYTHING SO IF YOU DON’T WANT TO BE SPOILED, STOP READING THIS PARAGRAPH.  The final choice that you have to make revolves around either sacrificing Chloe to her fate of getting shot in the bathroom to save Arcadia Bay or saving Chloe for good, letting Arcadia Bay get eaten up by the apocalyptic storm.  It’s a touch choice to make but it’s binary in nature, making the choice pretty cheap.  If you choose to save Arcadia Bay, then all of your choices you have made in previous episodes don’t matter anymore because everything is back to normal and everybody is okay.  If you choose to save Chloe, then Arcadia Bay is totally destroyed by the storm…once again almost negating the choices that you made previously.  It’s kind of a crappy way to end a choice-driven story.  A good choice-driven story should wrap up in a variety of different ways depending on the consequences of your choices.  Life is Strange throws all of this into the water, giving us either ending A or ending B, and not much else.  It’s pretty frustrating, especially since the story had a ton of potential.

via MMGM
via MMGM

It’s sad to see such a great new series come to an end in such a bad way.  I had an awesome time with the game and its refreshing and original story.  It was intriguing and often thought-provoking and the decisions that you had to make were pretty meaningful for the most part.  It’s a shame that all of these choices are written away during the game’s final moments. In the end, I have to applaud DONTNOD and Square-Enix for their Life is Strange, but it could have been so much better.  It had the potential to be so much more.

life is strange e5 score

Also available on PC, Xbox One, PS3, and Xbox 360

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Review: Life is Strange Episode 4

via Playstation Lifestyle
via Playstation Lifestyle

Life is Strange (Episode 4) (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Square Enix

Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment


Things are starting to get pretty serious at Blackwell Academy.  Perhaps even more serious is what is going on in Max Caulfield’s life as she continues to learn and grasp her new found powers of time manipulation.  The third episode of Life is Strange ended with an event straight out of left field.  It was completely unexpected and the fourth episode, titled The Dark Room, picks up right after the credits of the third episode.  Before I go on, there might be some spoilers littered to and fro, but I will try my best to keep it as clean of spoilers as possible.

via Giant Bomb
via Giant Bomb

At the end of the third episode, Max discovered that she could go back in time just by focusing her attention on a photograph.  She went back and saved her best friend Chloe’s dad from getting into a car accident.  This might seem like a blessing, but Max’s actions back in time had its ramifications in the present day.  Because she saved Chloe’s dad, Max’s friend group has changed as a new Vortex Club member.  More importantly, Chloe was saved from the brink of death, rescued from a pretty damaging car accident.  The accident has rendered her paralyzed and in a wheelchair…and much different than the type of person we have come to know from previous episodes.  This was the major bang that episode three closed its curtains with.

This presented us with the exciting prospect of a totally new direction for the story.  Unfortunately this was not exactly the case.  The first third of the episode featured Max’s time with Chloe after the effects of her actions back in time.  It’s kind of depressing and somber as Max deals with the consequences of her actions.  She saved William, Chloe’s dad, but at what cost?  Chloe is pretty much a vegetable, captive to a tangle of breathing tubes and monitors.  Her life has been prominently changed because of what Max has done.  After a shocking choice that is presented to Max (more on this later), Max transports herself back in time once again to reverse her actions and return everything back to the way it originally was.  This was the last we see of these extreme powers.  I am sure that this type of time travel will rear its head again in the final episode, but I was kind of disappointed that I was not able to spend more time in that altered reality.  (There was a refreshing lack of misguided teen lingo in that new reality due to Chloe’s distaste for the word “Hella.”)

via Giant Bomb
via Giant Bomb

Instead, the majority of the episode was spent in the original variety.  Things are still pretty bad at Blackwell as Max and Chloe continue to investigate the mystery behind Nathan, Kate’s untimely death, and the disappearance of Rachel.  The episode puts the detective hat on Max as it gives you a set of clues that you have to connect to get your next lead in the investigation.  The game puts all of the clues in front of you in the form of a billboard and makes you connect them all to find similarities.  It was a cool idea in theory, but it turned out to be quite frustrating as some clues where pretty hard to connect with others.  After the long slog of connecting the dots, you figure out the next location you need to investigate is an old run down farmhouse, which Max and Chloe are led to believe contains some dirt on Nathan and the Prescott family’s mysterious dealings in Arcadia Bay.

In terms of decisions, this episode did not deliver.  I have been pretty pleased with the types of decision that you have had to make so far, but the fourth episode went for “shock value” instead of actual quality decisions.  Every decision that you had to make was engineered in such a way that set you up for some gut-wrenching moments.  This might be exciting for some, but I would have liked more thought put into these decisions.  It felt like the developers met up the night before and were like, “alright guys, what extreme decisions should we put into the game to shake up the plot?”

via Connected Digital World
via Connected Digital World

With all this being said, the episode ended in such a way that sets up the last episode to be a toss-up.  It could be a very enticing and gripping episode or it could be an incoherent mess in terms of plot direction.  It’s hard to tell at this point, but I still consider my interest to be piqued.  The episode covered a lot of ground in terms of the mysteries surrounding Nathan and some of the other events that have been taking place at Blackwell Academy, but The Dark Room can be considered the weakest episode in the series yet.  The last episode, which will wrap everything up, has either everything to prove or everything to lose.

life is strange e4 score

  • I should note that this review was based upon my decisions that I have made in the previous episodes.  The experience could have been a lot different depending on the type of decisions that you made throughout the course of the series.
  • Also available on PC, PS3, and Xbox One

Review: Life Is Strange Episode 3

via Playstation Lifestyle
via Playstation Lifestyle

Life Is Strange Episode 3 (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Square Enix

Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment


If you have been paying playing Square Enix and DONTNOD’s Life Is Strange, you already know that a lot of stuff went down in the episodic game’s second chapter.  Your choices that you make and your powers that you have a profound impact on what takes place.  As a byproduct of this kind of episode, we get an aftermath episode that deals with some of the fallout of the previous.

Life Is Strange’s third episode, entitled Chaos Theory, does a lot of cool things with the story, but it was relatively boring in its entirety.  I went into the episode in that negative mindset already because when you have to follow up an episode like the second one, it’s hard to deliver that same kind of one-two punch.  There were some good bits and pieces scattered throughout the episode that make up for some of the boring parts, but this just seems to follow the path of an “in-between” kind of episode.  The eye of the storm, if you will.

via XGN
via XGN

Story wise, like I mentioned before, our character Max Caulfield is dealing with the aftermath of the happenings of the second episode.  Depending on the outcome that you reach in the previous chapter, the overall tone of Chaos Theory differs.  Some players will treat Max like a hometown hero worthy of praise and thanks.  If things went south, then there will be a sad and dreary overtone present throughout.  The fact that you could have two different episodes depending on what happened in the second is pretty refreshing.

Some of the problems from past episodes carry over, like the game’s cringe-worthy dialog.  I overlooked it a bit in the first episode, but it has continued to get a little worse.  It’s not awful, but it just does not seem natural.  The way the characters talk really rubs me the wrong way and gets me to dislike them.  Things like the overzealous use of the world “hella” and other similar slang can get pretty annoying after a while.  No one speaks like that, at least not the people I talk to.  The game also seems to straddle the line between a thoughtful and intelligent story and the story you would find within the confines of a young-adult beach read.  I could picture the story, aside from some of its darker elements, right at home in the pages of a book in the teen section of a library.

via Blogocio
via Blogocio

The mechanics still manage to stay relevant, which is a bit surprising.  DONTNOD continues to make good use of the time rewind elements in pretty cool ways.  This was the episode where it seemed like they knew what they were doing with the mechanics and everything seemed to work pretty well.  Aside from a couple fun sections, the episode relegates itself to a lot of fetch quests, which did not provide a lot in the fun department.  I hope that these portions do not spill over into future episodes, because I want them to do more with the mechanics that they leave for you.

What makes this episode shine amid some of its problems however is the fantastic and unexpected ending.  I am not exaggerating at all when I said it hit me like a cannon coming out of left field. By the time the credits started to roll, it becomes apparent that the story that you once thought you knew gets flopped on its backside.  They seem to be going in an exciting new direction for what seems to be the rest of the season.  Perhaps this does not sound as mind-blowing in words, but I do not want to spoil anything.  Just take my word for it when I describe its unexpected nature.

life is strange e3 3

I am excited for where the story is going in the future.  I was beginning to worry towards the middle of the episode that things were starting to run dry.  The story had its interesting plotlines, but they started to become a little stale and predictable.  The curveball that gets thrown at Max at the end of the episode secures Chaos Theory as one of the pivotal episodes in Life Is Strange.  It may not seem like it at first, but you will know what I mean when you experience what happens for yourself.

life is strange e3 score

Also available on PC, PS3, Xbox One, and Xbox 360.

Review: Life is Strange Episode 2

via Playstation Lifestyle
via Playstation Lifestyle

Life is Strange Episode 2 – Out of Time (2015)

PS4 / Rated M

Adventure

Publisher: Square Enix

Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment


*There may be some slight spoilers in the following review.  Just a heads up.*

Max Caulfield is a girl that has the special power of time manipulation.  It is a power that a lot of use would die to have.  In the first episode of Life is Strange, we get to see Max and how she deals with the realization of these newfound powers.  Now, the second episode is here, and we start to see Max getting more comfortable with using her powers.

The second episode, titled “Out of Time,” we get some background on the whole Kate Marsh situation.  If you remember from the first episode, a viral video has spread throughout Blackwell Academy of her doing some pretty un-Kate like things.  We soon find out that she attended a Vortex Club party, where she only remembers taking a couple of sips of wine.  She also remembered Nathan Prescott telling her he would take her to the ER.  It is assumed that none of this actually happened.  Kate is pretty depressed throughout the episode, and I started to realize that this episode pretty much centers on her.

via Eurogamer
via Eurogamer

The whole middle part of the episode has us spending more time with Max’s childhood friend Chloe, which we met in the first episode.  After Max’s nightmare at the end of the first episode, Chloe starts to become super interested in Max’s powers, and she tests them in a diner, run by Chloe’s mom.

The game gives us a couple of sequences that actually used the time manipulation mechanics in a fun and interesting way.  Chloe has you guess what is in your pockets, and using your time powers, you can wait till she pulls everything out and then rewind and blow her mind.  She also has you predict what is going to happen in the diner in the next thirty seconds.  The game has you observe the happenings and little details that partake in those thirty seconds, and then has you rewind to tell Chloe the full recap of what happens.  It took me a couple of times to get through these sequences, given the attention to detail that they require, but they were generally pretty fun.

via Gameinformer
via Gameinformer

Later in the episode there is also a pretty intense and gripping sequence involving a train.  Chloe is stuck on the rails and you have to do some quick thinking to divert the train’s path.  This requires a lot of time manipulation to give yourself time to investigate the area.  It got a little frustrating at times, but I eventually figured out what I needed to do.

We also get introduced to a new, and possibly more dangerous, character than Nathan.  His name is Frank, and he seems to have a past with Chloe.  He starts demanding money, which seems to be the theme with Chloe’s friends.  The game gives you a decision during this heated confrontation, which possibly sets the course for future interactions with this character.  In this moment, I felt that I made the wrong decision, which tended to be the theme for me in this episode.

via Gamer's Global
via Gamer’s Global

The highlight of this episode however was the last couple of scenes involving Kate Marsh.  The episode gives you numerous opportunities to talk to Kate Marsh and help her out with her depression, many of which I dropped the ball on.  It culminates to a pretty intense and emotional scene where Kate is on the rooftop of the dormitory, playing with her life.  The game doesn’t present you with a binary decision, but instead lets you try to talk her out of it.  You have to say the right things in order for her to change her mind.  I must have said the wrong things, because the scene ended with her descent towards her death.  It was a scene that made me feel pretty helpless.  I later found out that you could have saved her, which made me wonder what the story will be like going forward.

Going forward, I hope that developers DONTNOD can fix some of the technical issues that still linger around the game.  The lip-syncing issues are still pretty prominent with the characters, and still ran into some framerate problems where the game would start to chug.  It’s still a very nice looking game, but there is nothing to demanding about it.  In a recent interview, they revealed that the character progression and the voice actors are where a lot of their time and money was devoted to, with the technical aspects of the game taking the backburner.  It is a shame that they could not deliver on both fronts, because they made it seem like they will not be fixing the issues anytime soon.

via Gamer's Global
via Gamer’s Global

“Out of Time” was a pretty strong episode, not to mention a well named one as well.  The story reveals that Max will not be able to use her powers over and over again.  She gets nosebleeds whenever she uses her powers too much.  We saw how this flaw in her powers affected her in the last scene, but I am more intrigued to see how it will affect the overall story arc.  Despite some of the ongoing technical issues, it is easy to see where DONTNOD’s priorities were with this one, giving us a really strong story and a pretty deep, and disturbing, ending.  I have a good reason to believe that Life is Strange will only get more involved…and well, more strange…as the story trucks on.

life is strange e2 score

Review: Life Is Strange Episode 1 – Chrysalis

via Playstation Lifestyle
via Playstation Lifestyle

Life Is Strange (Episode 1) – Chrysalis (2015)

Rated M / PS4

Adventure

Publisher: Square Enix

Developer: DONTNOD Entertaiment


I think we all have Telltale to thank for the rise to prominence of the episodic style of gaming.  Ever since their overwhelming success with the episodic Walking Dead series, fans have been demanding more of these types of experiences, and Telltale has been delivering.  However, it has only been Telltale up to this point.  Joining in on the fun is Square Enix, and more specifically DONTNOD Entertainment, the guys behind Remember Me.  They have joined the episodic realm of gaming with their new series Life Is Strange.

Life Is Strange is a peculiar story about a young teenager named Max Caulfield (a Catcher in the Rye reference?) who moves away from her family in Seattle to go school at Blackwell Academy in her hometown of Arcadia Bay, Oregon.  Blackwell Academy could be considered your stereotypical rich and up-tight school for the preppy kids.  There’s all your cliché cliques that roam the halls and everybody seems to be a complete asshole.  It’s probably worth mentioning that DONTNOD is a French developer, which might explain the atmosphere of the academy.  I’m sure their view of western culture is a little slanted and incorrect, because let’s be honest, the use of the word “hella” is too damn high.  No one uses hella unless you are some skateboarding punk from the west coast.  There’s a bunch of other “American slang” that they put in the game that doesn’t seem to fit in.

life is strange e1 1

Max is generally a likable character however.  Amid the tons of characters you meet in the first episode, around 90% of them are generally unlikable.  Max is an aspiring photographer, and she doesn’t seem to be considered one of the “popular kids” around school.  She doesn’t mind too much, and she just goes about doing her own thing.  It doesn’t seem like she wants to be the center of attention really.

The first episode has some problems, however they are problems that can be fixed in subsequent episodes.  The game has a mysterious start, which is later revealed to be one of Max’s nightmares that she has during class.  She is stuck in a terrible storm near a lighthouse.  As she arrives to the base of the lighthouse, the storm flings a nearby boat into the top of the lighthouse and it all comes crumbling down on her, right as she wakes up from her sleep in photography class.

life is strange e1 2

As I mentioned before, I started to realize through the conversations in the photography class that the writing could use some work.  The characters talk with that stereotypical “slang-speak” that really rubs me the wrong way.  It makes you start to dislike their characters.  Max’s inner thoughts also need some work.  She repeats herself a ton, but perhaps this is because she has nothing else to say.  It would have been nice to have a little variety with her thoughts though.

The most intriguing part of the story however comes when Max witnesses a rather disturbing scenes during one of her routine “bathroom mental breakdowns”.  We get introduced to her childhood friend Chloe, who is hassling a distressed rich kid who pulls a gun on her and shoots her right on the spot.  Max goes to hold out her hand, which causes her to reverse time…all the way to photography class.  The revelation that she has these strange time manipulation powers drives her to go back to the bathroom to reverse the fateful event.

via ingame.de
via ingame.de

It’s these powers that really make Life Is Strange stand out from some of Telltale’s other episodic offerings.  Before, when you made dialog choices and other actions, those choices stuck with you, whether you liked them or not.  With Life Is Strange, whenever you make a choice, you can manipulate time in your favor to fix your choice if it doesn’t work out the way you want it to.  It really makes you think about the choices that you make and it often times made me sit there and debate whether or not I wanted to move forward with what I have done.

Towards the end of the episode, we started to see a demonstration of how the time manipulation will work outside of the dialog choices in the form of quick time event (of sorts).  There isn’t too much action or quick time events so far in the story, with the main focus being on exploration.  There is a ton of things for you to look at and see in the academy and its surrounding buildings.  The bulletin boards are full of ads, posters, and announcements and the school feels like a living and breathing environment.  With five episodes however, I start to wonder where they will take the story in terms of setting.  Blackwell Academy doesn’t offer a huge setting, and I already feel like I have explored most of what they will be showing me.  I hope that they take the story to other places and other environments.

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The first episode of Life Is Strange is a promising and shaky start all at the same time.  The time manipulation mechanics are simple to use but provide for enhanced decision making.  The setting and concepts that the story delivers are also pretty unique as well.  It’s the writing and the characters that probably need the most improvement as future episodes come out.  Not every character needs to be dislikable and they all don’t have to use a dictionary full of slang to have normal conversations.  I think DONTNOD has a good game in their hands, and if they can continue to work at it and iron out some of its wrinkles, it will be a fresh new take on what Telltale has already done with the episodic style of storytelling.

life is strange e1 score