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Strange Addictions: Life is Strange – Spoiler-Free Chrysalis Review
In 2013, when I played through the Naughty Dog masterpiece, The Last of Us, I thought I had seen a story-focused game that would have no equal for many years to come. The Last of Us was one of the most entrancing, addicting games that I had ever played, and it took me on an emotional roller coaster that I was more than happy to board. When the experience was over, I felt as if my life had actually changed – and there are very few entertainment properties that do that for me. I was not expecting another game to come along that was as good as Naughty Dog’s (so far) magnum opus.
Then I played Life is Strange.
Episode One of LIS – called Chrysalis – was so good I was completely, emotionally drained after the first episode and could not continue with the second. If I am able to recover, I will take up the challenge tomorrow. So, why was this game so good? One word: choices. To expand upon that word: life-altering, irreversible choices that decide exactly what happens to your friends, your enemies and of course, yourself.
You play as Max Caulfield, a (female) photography student at an elite school in Oregon. Eighteen-year-old Max is so three-dimensional; you’ll find yourself missing her after spending a few hours in her Chuck Taylors. As mentioned, I’m not going to spoil anything with this review – I’m just going to go over the elements of the game that makes it probably the best story-focused game I have ever played.If you don't agree with some of my opinions, that's totally okay. Many people are going to disagree with me on one particular area, and while I won't claim this is the perfect game, it certainly gets close.
Element # 1: The Choices You Make (or Don’t Make)
Here’s the thing: if you make a choice in most games, you can go back to the save point and redo it if it was the wrong choice. Even in games where the choice ends badly for your character, the game kills you fast enough to let you go back and make the right choice, even if you have to start from the beginning. Life is Strange is nothing like those games. Life is Strange is more like…life.
When you make a choice in this game, you really feel the weight of your choice. You aren’t faced with a good and a bad option; you are usually faced with two bad options and sometimes, one that is even worse. Even when you are trying to do something good, you can screw up your life, and the life of everyone around you at Blackwell Academy.
So, what basically happens is, every time you make a choice, you obsess over whether or not is the right one, and even though Max has a particular talent that allows her to make better choices than most (no spoilers), you are still going to agonize over whether you made the right choice or not, and how it is going to affect the rest of the game.
Element #2: The Dialogue
Life is Strange features the voice acting talents of Hannah Telle, Ashly Burch (of HAWP fame) and Derek Phillips, among others. But even though the performances are flawless, the real star of this game is the writing. I’m going to get a lot of flak for this but I loved the dialogue. I really did. I felt as if people were saying things that they would have said in real life in that situation and sometimes, I found myself forgetting that it was a game and just listening to characters converse. Sure, it wasn’t all great, but it certainly didn’t detract from the experience.
Element #3: The World
The world around you is so interactive that you will never have time to touch, look and examine everything. Technically, you could, but I didn’t, which resulted in me missing some stuff that could be beaucoup important later on. The reason that I skipped that stuff was that the world simply felt too big and too real. As an example, I spent twenty minutes wandering around a character’s room looking for a CD because I didn’t want to start digging through her stuff and invade her privacy.
Besides the environment itself, the people that populate the world act like real people act. They say stupid stuff. They get silly with their friends. They smoke the Happy Plant. They get angry and freak out over nothing. In essence – they act like human beings.
Element #4: The Television Format
If Life is Strange: Chrysalis was the pilot episode of a television show (which would be amazing) it would be a love-child of Dawson’s Creek and Twin Peaks – and maybe some Lost thrown in there as well. Playing the game felt like watching the first episode of a really, really good television show. It completely stood on its own (and had a science-fiction element, which is my personal cup-of-tea) and acted like a television show.
The music was a big part of this. The music was perfectly chosen and really set the mood for what was going on at that particular time – and there were Serious Things going on. Again, it would have been a great TV show on its own. So, let’s get on the ball, Hollywood! We need a Life is Strange movie or Life is Strange TV series!
Element #5: The Story
I have left the best for last. The story that is being presented in this game is simply incredible. It is one of the most robust stories ever to be created in a video game, in my not-so-humble opinion. There is some crazy stuff going on in the main storyline, which is actually quite hard to pin down and define, but every single character seems to have a fully-developed backstory and their own subplots that seem to be intertwined with the main story somehow.
So, if you pick at a thread of a particular story – like helping someone out of a jam – you find out things that could be part of your main plot, or part of a completely different plot and are completely compelling all on their own. You pick at one of those threads – and the whole thing starts to slowly unravel. It is deliciously interesting.
The Bottom Line
The game is obviously not going to be for everyone. In fact, I won't call it the best game out there, but I do think it is the best story-focused game on the market today - and yes, that includes The Last of Us, Bioshock and others, so get your hate on in the comments if you want. But unless you are the type of person that can empathize with a character and agonizes over moral choices, you might be better off with a different game.
The bottom line is that if any of this sounds interesting, you need to play this game. If you enjoy story-based video games you will enjoy this game. Plus, if you are a geek (which Max and I both describe ourselves as), there are some pretty awesome geeky references scattered around in there that you’ll love. Go play the game. They’ve set the bar and I can’t wait to go play the next episode.
M for Mature: blood, sexual themes, violence, drug references, strong language
Do you have a different opinion? Did you play the game and hate it? Sound off in the comments below!