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Life is Strange: Episode 1 - Chrysalis

By Bobfish21-02-2015
Life is Strange: Episode 1 - Chrysalis

The Defence

DONTNOD Entertainment
Square Enix
Action, Adventure
Release Date:

The Prosecution

Intel Core 2 Duo 3.0 GHz
AMD equivalent
Nvidia GeForce GTX 260
AMD Radeon HD 4890
2 GB
3 GB

The Case

With the rise of Telltale as the dominant force in episodic, narrative based video game storytelling, the surprise is not how many other developers have jumped onto the bandwagon. But oddly how few. In fact, you’d be hard pushed to find any when you really think about it. So when DONTNOD came along saying they were taking on the Indie behemoth, it was something I, at least, thought was not only welcome, but long past due. As much as I love me some Telltale, a world without competition makes one lazy. Potentially at least. The former certainly have not fallen into that trap, not yet at least. But what we are really here today for, is to ascertain if DONTNOD will ensure that trend continues. This is Life is Strange.

The Trial

I must confess to being somewhat torn about this game. Not in whether I think episode, and thus the series, is worthy of recommendation. I will say right now that it is. But the real dilemma is how much needs to be said about it. On the one hand, the amount of subtext and nods to other pop, and not so pop, culture media is practically begging to be dissected and pontificated over for thousands of words. There are novels worth of references and influences to be explored. And all of them will, in time. But whether that should be done now, or at the series close is a difficult decision to make. So, for now, I will leave it hanging, and see how episode 2 plays out.

So then, what we are left with is, as always, the most important of all questions. Is the game, or at least Chrysalis, any good? Abso-frikkin-lutely it is. Even those of a less pretentious bent that yours truly are sure to find enough here to keep them entertained. Especially those fond of Telltale, as the similarities are not only undeniable, but clearly intentional. Their system works, and it works extremely well, so why bother reinventing the wheel?

Why hide when nobody notices you anyway?

Why hide when nobody notices you anyway?

This is not to say DONTNOD have copy pasted everything. Far from it. They have, rather, taken the concept and put their own spin on it. Peeling back the conversation significantly, but not to the point where it feels lacking, and bringing in some, dramatic music, actual gameplay! Albeit still decidedly on the light side of the coin, but pronounced and persistent enough that, well, it has actual gameplay. The crux of this consists primarily of moving around a small, but impressively varied, series of small environments and solving some light puzzles and/or engaging in conversation with various NPCs.

Usually, the two are intertwined. With main character Max learning early in the game, whilst witnessing a murder, that she has the ability to rewind time. The best part about this being the deliberate decision by the development team, this will be a carte blanche mechanic that you can activate at will. Anywhere, anytime...apart from mid conversation. You have to wait for those to finish before you can jump back and, for example, give the correct surname for someone who won’t talk to you unless you demonstrate you know who she is. To offset the tedium of this fact, you have the option to skip over any dialogue you have already heard, and jump straight to the bit you want to change.

As for the puzzles themselves, so far at least, they have remained almost childishly simple. Whether this is a trend that will continue throughout remains unclear at this point, but my prediction is that they will grow increasingly complex as time goes by. It’s generally not such a great idea to make the first part of a five part series so gruellingly impossible that it pushes people away after all. Though even if the puzzle solving does remain at the same approximate level, that is in no way a bad thing. Because honestly, they’re not the focus of the game, not even remotely.

Quick, get it on Instagram!

Quick, get it on Instagram!

What this is really all about, is, well, a lot of things actually. Much like life, there are a lot of factors playing on Max. Both external and internal. Essentially, this is a tale of self-actualisation and introspection. Narratively focused on the future, the unknown, and finding your place in the world. Thematically nostalgic and reflective. Two aspects that seem diametrically opposed, but gel together perfectly. Remember, as George Santayana said, “those who do not know the past are destined to repeat it.” It is easy to forget, after all, that it is where we came from that ultimately dictates where we will end.

Ending is something else that features heavily as it happens. With the final moments of this episode revealing that a hurricane is heading from the sleepy, almost frozen in time, burg of Arcadia Bay. Of a scale more than sufficient to eradicate the entire area and wipe it from the face of the world. Unambiguously ascribed to the increasingly prevalent, real world issue of climate change. And all dear Max can do is rewind time a few minutes. No pressure then!

Visually, Life is Strange is...interesting. It is nothing to graphically write home about, being barely par for the course truth be told. But artistically things are a lot more interesting. Animations are smooth and extremely impressive actually, with the environments and colour palette feeling more like something straight out of an instomatic camera...just like the one that Max uses to take all her pictures shockingly enough. It does a good job of both setting and reinforcing the dreamy, snapshot in time feeling. With shaky, faux handwritten arrows and words hovering above items that you can interact with. Like a comic book come to life.

How can you really say no?

How can you really say no?

Which leaves us, ultimately, with the voice work. Most of the characters have very little time on screen, with many of them being given no character development at all if you choose to walk past and not speak to them. Which is most of the cast at this stage. Just as, in the real world, you do not stop and speak to every single person you see, there is no imperative for Max to do the same. Which results in an episode with approximately three hours of content all told, but still almost two hours even if you skip all of the optional interactions. Not bad. Not bad at all.

Especially considering that the sparing time each character does get still leaves everyone feeling fleshed out and well rounded. Everyone feels like a real, living, breathing person with the weight of experience, hopes and dreams behind them. None of the performances are particularly outstanding, with all of them being decidedly on the understated side. But that is yet another element that reinforces the more sedate, almost maudlin atmosphere. And honestly makes them feel more like people than characters in a play.

The Verdict

Truth of the matter. There’s a lot to like here, a hell of a lot. Your average gamer, as they say, may find it to be little more than average, there’s no denying that. But there is nothing, absolutely nothing, to point to as being bad about it. Meanwhile, the more deep thinking and self-indulgent amongst us will find a narrative layered with a multitude of concepts that will keep you thinking longer after completion. Whilst the tale of a young, socially awkward woman just trying to find her niche in the world is one that just about everyone can relate to.

Case Review

  • Appearance: Imagine a million, single images from an old instant camera, put in sequence and played as a film. With sound.
  • Freedom: There’s a linear story in a world that lets you experience it at your own pace.
  • The Butterfly Effects: Where other games give the veneer of choice, Life is Strange lets’ you literally change everything.
  • Theme: We’ve all had moments where we just don’t...fit, and we’ve all wished there was something to make that easier.
  • Length: Whilst there are around three hours of content, close on a third of it is optional and can be easily missed.
  • Puzzles: When the worst complaint you can make is that the puzzles, which are clearly not the focus, are too easy...yeah.
Score: 4/5
We played hide and seek in waterfalls when we were younger.


Life Is Strange is a game that attempts to create many of the hallmarks of the indie film. With its camera angles, the framing used therein, its dreamy soundtrack, its sun dappled colour palette and its attempts at stylish, memorable dialogue, the game’s influences are clear. Perhaps needless to say, its presentation is very polished as well as cinematic and the game proves to be a visual treat even on the lowest visual settings. That said, the one thing about the game that is inconsistent in quality, is the dialogue. The dialogue swings from “I’ve actually said something like that fairly recently” to “No one has said that since at least 2004”; the dialogue shambles all over the place, from believable to wince-worthy and back again in the same scene. Furthermore, there are moments of heavy handedness and awkwardness. This is perhaps exemplified in the line “I will remember this conversation”. Thanks for letting us know NPC but the games already been telling us what choices will have consequences for the last two hours. The up side of the dialogue is that the voice performances which are all competently and confidently given.

As previously mentioned, the game does feel the need to tell you, via on-screen text, at the start and at various intervals whether a particular choice will have consequences or not. This makes the game a whole lot easier but at the cost of sapping subtlety from the story. Besides, it’s fairly clear what choices matter more than others through Max’s reactions and contextual clues so the inclusion of the on-screen text often feels redundant. That said, the effects of your choices are rarely clearly telegraphed and I’m certainly interested to see how my choices this episode will affect Max later on.

This first instalment does a good job of introducing characters but less so of establishing them; Max is a likeable, interesting character but everyone else is decidedly one note in comparison. Considering this is still early on, with four more episodes to follow, it’s to be expected. This episode establishes Max’s powers and her power’s limits but doesn’t give us so much as a bread crumb as to why she has them or where they came from. In other words, this episode asks all the right questions, ensuring we’re interested enough to stay for the answers if/when they come. It gives us a glimpse of the future, but the glimpse is just that. This episode leaves you wanting more and to be able to fast forward to March and the next episode.

Score: 4.5/5


Life Is Strange was a game that I was looking forward to and did meet expectations. The episodic formula reminded of Telltale Games. I have been enjoying both The Walking Dead and Game of Thrones recently so made the association that I would probably like Life Is Strange. You can do a little more exploring in the game compared to any of the Telltale games, but not much. After playing the game it did remind of other games like Heavy Rain and Alan Wake specifically.

Despite the time travel elements, the mystery, and weird weather premonitions, Life Is Strange just feels a little too ordinary. The flow of the story is done very well, but I just don’t feel that invested in any of the characters as much as I like. It just seems like a typical teen drama because of the less than inspiring setting and stereotypical characters.

I will continue to play the entire series and I’m hopeful to see future developments. I want to see how my choices will affect the gameplay. Looking back at my choices, it seems that there was a lot of minor events that I missed. This gives Life Is Strange Episode 1 Crystalis a lot of replayability.

Score: 4/5
Comments (1)
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Posts: 3290

Y u delay episode 2? :(