Life is Strange: Episode 1 - [Oblique reference] plus [cool author] equals [zeitgeisty game]

We’ve all wanted to take a mistake back, never more so than in school. Calling a teacher ‘mum’, that time you actually found yourself screaming, “I didn’t even want to go to your birthday party anyway!”, or setting fire to the kindly old caretaker these are moments that swim back up to you years later, bringing a blush to your cheeks and a quickening fear in your heart.

At its best, Life is Strange is a sort of teen-focused power fantasy that solves that problem. Max, a lonely student at a new school, unexpectedly develops the power to reverse time by raising her hand. Embarrassed yourself in front of the skater kids? Zip back and tell them that, actually, you do know what a noseslide is. Made fun of by the school’s Queen Bitch? Rewind, solve a quick environment puzzle and splash her designer duds with paint. It’s the loner’s dream.


It’s also a neat design trick. Dontnod borrows more than its episodic format from Telltale’s groundbreaking adventure games. In a game based around conversation, divergent moral choices and light puzzling, the rewind mechanic which can be used at almost any time helps clear up what could be ambiguous choices by letting you see the immediate results (if not the far-reaching consequences) of both sides, turning some environments into mini Rube Goldberg machines.

Unfortunately, where it succeeds on a theoretical level, Life is Strange isn’t as nimble when it comes to the reality of its storytelling. The wider story Max unravelling mysteries in her suburban hometown while dealing with visions of apocalypse is an often uneasy mix of Brick, The OC and Donnie Darko, realised with a tin ear for teenage slang. The script is hella embarrassing, for reals. And don’t get us started on its indie posturing one car licence plate reads ‘TWN PKS’, for God’s sake. It’s like reading Tarantino’s childhood diary.

But its sledgehammer subtlety is balanced by a genuinely good heart; Max’s inner monologue as seen in her diary or detailed world observations reveals a more convincing teenage voice. Here’s hoping the fascinating mechanic, and future episodes, can better draw it out.

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