Life is Strange – Episode 3 – 5 Review
I enjoyed Life is Strange for what it was, a highly focused character story revolving around a small town with issues, the mystery of a missing girl and Max’s ability to turn back time (most of the time). While the introductory episodes hinted at a gradual unfurling and freedom of use for Max’s growing powers, I found that these last three episodes acted to undermine this promised agency. While the game seemed to be teaching the player to rewind time and agonise over decisions because they might have dire consequences, the focus soon changes completely, turning the only safe path through conversation puzzles into trial-by-error gauntlets as the game forces the player along its chosen story, with only a few divergent options available.
While I knew that the mystery of missing Blackwell student, Rachel Amber, was important to the story being told, it soon became apparent that it was *the* story being told, and thus, the game descends into a whodunit where you just happen to have rewind powers. In a practical sense, the mechanics of manipulating time in these episodes becomes not too different to just reloading a quick save. There were several smart uses of Max’s power, such a breaking into a locked door, entering the room and then rewinding time to simply unlock it from the inside, but such moments were far too few. By the end of the third episode, it felt like all the tricks had been spent.
A lot of Life is Strange’s promises went unfulfilled. I was not given much opportunity to deepen my romantic options with any of the few possible individuals. There was also the overarching assignment of handing in a polaroid photo for a competition. Throughout the game, I dutifully sought magical moments to capture. However, when the time comes to enter the competition, you are not given any chance to choose between the images you have captured. Instead, only one photo is used. The photo becomes important for story reasons, but it still shows the small frustrations that Life is Strange develops (no pun intended) across its closing episodes.
I was still impressed with the personal storytelling on display. Most of Life is Strange is made up of conversations with other students and adults, of no real necessity other than to paint Arcadia Bay as a real place with real people and real problems. And while you may not ultimately have much actual influence on these people beyond the odd scripted moment, it still feels almost un-game-like to pursue such threads. The slow pace that focuses on normal life moments adds to the intimacy of this heartfelt adventure.
As the climax is reached, Max finds herself stretched to her very limits, emotionally and physically. The ending itself is perhaps a few time-loops too long, resulting in a couple of eye-roll situations, but by the time the final credits roll and the last momentous decision has been made, one can’t help but feel as exhausted as its main protagonist, in a good way.
Life is Strange is a unique, genuine experience, one that brings back memories of youthful angst, immaturity and a sense of powerlessness against larger universal structures. It’s a game that shows a deep care for social justice and human relationships and connections. It may stumble along the way, but I feel enriched having played through it. Highly recommended.