Warning: There are spoilers in this article.
I believe I first became familiar with the 2015 video game, Life is Strange, when I saw a trailer several months before its release. Though I tend to gravitate more toward third-person shooters, survival horror, or general action games, there was something about the story-driven time-travel mystery game that drew me in. I was enchanted by Life is Strange right from the start. From its haunting dream sequence opening, where a tornado is set to destroy the town of Arcadia Bay, to its engaging characters, it felt like I was watching a coming-of-age film that I controlled.
I liked the idea of assuming the role of a teenage photography student named Max who discovers she can rewind time. She uses this ability to save the life of her childhood friend, Chloe – an act that ultimately has far-reaching and unforeseen consequences. But more on that later.
One of the first mysteries introduced in the game revolves around the disappearance of high school student Rachel Amber. This was a plot point that got me invested in the game and gave my imagination a workout on where the story would go. Most of all, I was excited over the possibility of Max using her time-rewind powers to go back to the day Rachel vanished to discover the truth.
Life is Strange was released as an episodic game, where each chapter was made available throughout the calendar year. The first installment did such a good job drawing me in that I anxiously awaited the subsequent chapters. I was introduced to quite a few intriguing characters right off the bat. This included bullying victim Kate, projectile-magnet Alyssa, and troubled rich kid Nathan.
Above all, it was Chloe that really intrigued me. Though she initially comes across as a rough-around-the-edges punk with criminal tendencies, she is the character who I gradually grew to love the most. The more I learned about the hardships she’d been through – from the loss of her father to her deep attachment to the absent Rachel to her antagonistic relationship with her step-father – the more I sympathized with her.
Life is Strange is a very layered video game, which is one of the things I like most about it. It would seem that Max would have no sweat ensuring that everyone around her has a happy ending, but it gradually becomes apparent that she’s not able to save everyone. It’s unclear why the universe grants her the ability to change the course of history. But a good deal of evidence is presented over the course of the game that Max’s frequent use of her powers is upsetting the balance of nature. Hence, the tornado that’s big enough to wipe out the town and potentially kill everyone in its path.
The final choice of Life is Strange is nothing short of heart-wrenching: Let Arcadia Bay be destroyed or go back in time and let Chloe die the way she was initially meant to. As attached as I’d gotten to Chloe by the time the end rolled around, I put myself in Max’s shoes and decided I couldn’t in good conscience sacrifice hundreds of people just for one girl I’d grown fond of.
In all honesty, this is the only video game I’ve played thus far that had me bawling like a baby at the end. And I’ve played a lot of games in my lifetime.
My main disappointment was that the mystery of what happened to Rachel Amber felt like it was overshadowed by all the other dramas taking place within the game. Given the extent that the plot revolves around her, I would have liked to see her in the flesh at some point in the story. The revelation that she’d been killed sometime prior to the beginning of Life is Strange was even more of a letdown.
You might ask what inspired me to write this game review after so long. News of a prequel game is what did it. Hearing of a title called Life is Strange: Before the Storm that would go back in time and explore the friendship between Chloe and Rachel Amber definitely got me interested.
I look forward to seeing if the prequel game – set to be released August 31 — matches the emotional resonance of its predecessor. It will be interesting to see how the story plays out without Max around to manipulate the time stream. I strongly hope that the game lives up to its promise.
Time will tell – no pun intended.