*This article contains some spoilers for the video game Life is Strange.
While it’s often the big releases that grab the most fanfare, Life is Strange, a beauty of an indie adventure game, has been making a name for itself since the first episode came out in January of this year. Visually enchanting and narratively intense, the game just released its long awaited fourth episode. It’s jawdropping from start to finish, and never have I as a player, wanted to know the outcome of a game so badly.
Life is Strange stars a high school senior named Max Caufield. (The Catcher in the Rye reference is not lost, thanks Dontnod Entertainment.) Max is a talented young photographer, and she’s new to the prestigious boarding school Blackwell Academy in Arcadia Bay, Oregon. To say that Max isn’t exactly making friends is an understatement. After leaving her parents and friends in Seattle, her home of five years, she’s feeling a little lost. However, one seemingly average day ends up turning Max’s entire life upside down. While in the restroom, she overhears a fight between the school’s resident bully Nathan Prescott and a girl with blue hair. A fight ensures and the girl gets shot, causing Max in her anguish to somehow rewind time. The next time she is able to stop the fight before it escalates, saving the other girl. The girl turns out to be Max’s childhood best friend Chloe, who has hardened herself after the death of her father and her mother’s remarriage to her “step-douche” David. After Max moved to Seattle, she didn’t do much to keep up her friendship with the grieving Chloe, something that Max regrets.
However, the connection between the girls is very strong and they fall back into their friendship easily, even if now it’s complicated by teenage hormones and you know, the ability to turn back time. It’s only Chloe who Max confides her newfound ability in, solidifying their bond. All over Arcadia Bay are posters of a missing girl named Rachel Amber. It becomes evident very quickly that Chloe was in love with Rachel, and Max vows to held Chloe solve the mystery of her disappearance.
The Rachel Amber rabbit hole leads to more mysteries, and over and over again, Max rewinds time to try and find answers. Along the way, Max deals with mean girls, a suicidal friend, predatory adults, an eager suitor and the frightening results of her power. Max and Chloe kiss, and it opens up a new world of possibility for the two, even if there’s not much time to process it. (The player also has the choice to romance her classmate Warren, a nice guy with major heart eyes for Max.) The world is reacting to the constant to and fro, and Max’s dreams try to warn her about an impending event so big and disastrous, she’ll be powerless to stop it.
After Max changes a major event in Chloe’s past, the fallout is nothing like Max expected. The most recent episode forced Max (and the player) to make some impossible decisions based on that rewind. I wasn’t expecting such an emotionally charged situation, but that’s kind of what Life is Strange does best: throw you for a loop.
The voicework and gorgeous scenery in Life is Strange is quite impressive. Max and Chloe are so well drawn and expressive that it almost feels like you are in a movie rather than playing an inexpensive indie game. There are places that the animation is less than thrilling, like in more superfluous details in the game, but it’s hard to hold that against the game designers. As someone who loved the indie game Gone Home a couple of years ago, I found Life is Strange to be its worthy successor. You spend most of the game looking for clues and solving puzzles, but there is a tremendous amount of interaction between yourself and the supporting characters and your choices will have consequences, good and bad. Like Gone Home, music plays a big role in this game, with a haunting and gorgeous score by Jonathan Morali and tracks by indie artists like Amanda Palmer, Sparklehorse and Bright Eyes. Hannah Telle, who voices Max, does so with a bit of a raspy whisper, which works for the soft spoken photographer with the supernatural gift. As Chloe, Ashly Burch, who has done voice work for numerous games and currently writes for Adventuretime, gives the blue haired teen just the right balance of angst and tenderness when it comes to Rachel and Max.
If you are looking for an engaging game with not one, but two female leads, and a hell of a lot of twists, turns and feels, check out Life is Strange which is available for most platforms.