Video Games

Life Is Strange – Unreview

I know that earlier this year I said that I wasn’t going to do game reviews anymore. I was concerned about the time involved and possible conflicts of interest, but I just played a game that I really want to talk to you about. So I came up with the idea of the “unreview.”

I’m not going to be doing a traditional review of the game where I weigh the pros and cons and decide whether or not to recommend it. Games that are “unreviewed” are already 100% endorsed by yours truly. Instead, I needed a space to talk about games I enjoyed and feel important enough to share with all of you. A sort of explanation of why you should play them that takes the flaws into account, but isn’t trying to produce a score based on pros vs. cons.

Life Is Strange | Life Is Strange Unreview | Gamerwife

The first game to get the Unreview treatment is Life Is Strange, an episodic game by French developers DONTNOD. The game is narrative focused, there isn’t a lot of “gameplay” as we usually define it, but it’s still more involved than most of what I’d consider “interactive fiction.” It’s more like a playable TV show, inspired by classic high school dramas like Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Friday Night Lights.

Life Is Strange also distinguishes itself in the video game sphere by focusing on two female characters and their relationship. You play as Max Caulfield, a typically awkward, but talented teen recently enrolled at the prestigious Blackwell Academy. Blackwell Academy also happens to be located in her former hometown, where she left her best friend Chloe 5 years ago when her family moved to Seattle. Max is nervous about how to reconnect with Chloe, given that they’ve barely spoken since she left, but she keeps getting sidetracked by mean girls and pushy teachers. When they are finally reunited, Max discovers an incredible power. But what is it for, and will she be able to find out in time?

The power in question is the ability to reverse time, a mechanic that perfectly complements the narrative gameplay so that you really feel like you have power over the outcome of the story. Didn’t like the way a conversation went? No sweat, just reverse time and give the answer you should have. Made a hasty decision and someone got hurt? Rewind that sucker and see if you can change the way it plays out. There are the occasional puzzle that involves rewinding time in the right sequence in order to collect needed items, etc. but that’s as difficult as the gameplay gets.

If you can operate a keyboard and a mouse, you can play Life Is Strange.

Others have criticized the game for sounding like a bunch of French dudes trying to write like teenager girls, but I found a lot of the time the cringe worthiness of some of the name dropping dialogue was due to its resemblance to how I spoke as an uber-pretentious 19 year old. That said, there is still a lot of awkwardly treehorned-in slang, but there was enough sincerity to even the most eye-roll worthy lines to give them a pass. I especially like how vulnerable Max is as a protagonist. Her earnest, yet snarky inner dialogue really reminded me of Rainbow Rowell’s heroines, brave but unaware.

Finally, if gameplay and story weren’t enough for you, the game is beautiful to look at. Yes, some of the animations are a little wonky here and there, but the painterly style of the art (ironic given that photography is a major part of the plot) is really stunning. It really gives a warm, sunny, nostalgic cast to the Pacific Northwest setting and reinforces the sort of hyper-real atmosphere Max finds herself in. If you don’t take my word for it, just check out some of the amazing screenshots from the game’s Steam page.

The first episode is available on PC and consoles for $5 and if you like YA novels, you will like this game. If you like comic books about real girls with crazy powers, you will like this game. If you like high school shows with kickass girls, you will like this game. And if you like games that involve more than just shooting things, you will like this game.

Seriously. Play this game.

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16 Comments

  • Reply
    kc2192
    February 11, 2015 at 9:10 am

    I honestly adore games like this. I’m a sucker for Telltale games and that’s why this game was recommended to me. I’ve purchased the first episode but haven’t played it yet. Looking forward to it! 🙂

    • Reply
      Mariko
      February 11, 2015 at 2:00 pm

      Yeah, if you’re already into the Telltale games then you’ll definitely appreciate Life Is Strange. The writing isn’t quite as masterful, but it took Telltale a while to get their formula down too. That said, I definitely found myself roleplaying LIfe Is Strange a lot more than I do for Telltake games. I don’t know if it’s just because I identified better with the characters, or the fact that I was playing alone and not with Rick, but I’d be really interested to hear what you think after you’ve had a chance to play it.

  • Reply
    Kayly Nyman
    February 11, 2015 at 7:43 pm

    Sounds intriguing! I don’t think I’ve ever played a game of that style before – I’ll have to give a it a shot.

    • Reply
      Mariko
      February 12, 2015 at 10:37 am

      That’s part of why I wanted to highlight it. These types of “narrative games” have really been proliferating lately and are perfect for people who like games, but don’t have the skills for other genres like platformers or shooters. I also highly recommend any other recent games by Telltale like The Walking Dead or The Wolf Among Us. Really moving interactive entertainment.

  • Reply
    Megan R
    February 12, 2015 at 12:28 am

    I added this one to my steam wishlist a few days ago, so glad to see it gets the thumbs up from you!

    • Reply
      Mariko
      February 12, 2015 at 10:39 am

      It’s definitely not perfect, but I was affected by it a lot more than I thought I would be and it definitely seemed like something fans of my blog would like.

  • Reply
    Fiona
    February 12, 2015 at 3:08 am

    The artwork looks beautiful!

    • Reply
      Mariko
      February 12, 2015 at 10:40 am

      It’s absolutely gorgeous. I really like that they went with a more “painted” art style than photo realism. I feel like that would have actually made it harder to identify with, ironically enough.

  • Reply
    Erin Radler
    February 12, 2015 at 10:35 am

    Hahaha, I like that you are “unreviewing” games 😉 I’ll have to check this out!

    • Reply
      Mariko
      February 12, 2015 at 10:42 am

      Definitely worth a look. It has a sort of spooky, Pacific Northweird kinda vibe that I’m really into.

  • Reply
    margotmeanie
    February 12, 2015 at 3:35 pm

    It sure is pretty!! I’ve never attempted anything on steam before. I’ve always been either a console of mobile gamer.

    • Reply
      Mariko
      February 12, 2015 at 3:41 pm

      It is also available on consoles. I actually played it on PS4, but wanted to illustrate how accessible it is as a game that you don’t necessarily *need* a fancy console to play it.

  • Reply
    Joie Fatale
    February 16, 2015 at 6:36 pm

    I love the “Unreview” idea! I like reading your perspective on games. I don’t consider myself a gamer, but, when I read your review (unreviews) I feel like, since I enjoy VG’s, maybe I am a little…
    I hope your do more, as long as they don’t conflict with your time, and goals. 🙂
    That being said: I will have to try this game!

  • Reply
    Friday I'm In Love - Gamerwife
    October 30, 2015 at 9:00 am

    […] much to report this week. Did an interview with Tanya short. Finally finished Life Is Strange. Blitzed through the final season of Hemlock […]

  • Reply
    My Favourite Games of 2015 - Gamerwife
    December 21, 2015 at 9:03 am

    […] I’ve written about this game multiple times this year. But with good reason. I. LOVE. THIS. GAME. Surprising storytelling, sympathetic but […]

  • Reply
    Friday I'm In Love #136 - Gamerwife
    February 3, 2016 at 4:55 am

    […] much to report this week. Did an interview with Tanya short. Finally finished Life Is Strange. Blitzed through the final season of Hemlock […]

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