Dontnod Entertainment might have a hit on their hands.
One of my first stops in New York Comic Con is Square Enix’s closed media event. The publisher had a handful of games available for demo and the respective developers were available for interviews as well. I was looking forward to see Lara Croft and the Temple of Osiris and Sleeping Dogs: Definitive Edition. However, I was more impressed by Dontnod Entertainment’s game called Life is Strange.
You might have played their last game Remember Me, which received lukewarm reviews from critics and players alike. They are also known for saying that a publisher, not Square Enix, refused to publish their games because the titles featured female protagonist.
Life is Strange focuses on a young teen named Max Caulfield who returns to her hometown for the first time after five years. The main mystery of the game involves searching for answers regarding the disappearance of a student named Rachel Amber with the help of Max’s rebellious friend Chloe Price. At its core, the game is an episodic adventure game with puzzle elements.
A lot of people have been calling the game a fusion of Telltale, Braid, and Gone Home. One thing that makes the game stand out though is the protagonist’s ability to rewind time and undo certain actions and dialogue.
Is the comparison to the three aforementioned games a good thing? That’s not a simple yes or no question. Gamemoir’s Jack Rooney said that it should be a good thing since all the games mentioned were amazing. You don’t really need to have originality to be great as long as everything else is excellent in standard. At the same time, it’s only a bad thing when a game fails to synthesize all the great elements from other titles to create a solid game. Life is Strange won’t strike players as an instant clone. The influence is there, but its presence is subtle that you’ll forget about comparing similarities.
I thought that the game was beautiful and each object in the environment was crafted with great attention. One of my favorite scenes of the demo was seeing the characters walk into Chloe’s room and the sunlight was beaming through the windows. You won’t find this kind of detail from the other games it was compared to. I was also impressed by the absence of frame rate issues especially when we were just watching an unfinished product of the game.
The only real complaint I have about the game was the lip-synching issues. It was hard to stay immersed in a critical moment when the dialogue doesn’t match their lip movement at all. I’m hoping that this is something that will be addressed since it’s still a work-in-progress. I’ve also heard side comments that the dialogue itself is quite cheesy. It’s a criticism most foreign developers get whenever they try to write American characters. There’s apparently a disconnect between how French people think teenage girls speak and what they really say. I personally didn’t mind the dialogue too much unless I’m nitpicking. It could be improved, but it’s not really a deal breaker for me.
So, what makes this game different from other choice titles? Players have the ability to rewind and revise their dialogue and actions. You could do this as many times as you want based on what I saw from the demo. There wasn’t any counter that showed you how much “rewind” power you have left and the developer just kept doing it for a number of times. However, you can’t rewind all the way from one chapter to the other. The “rewind” ability only works between checkpoints, so it’s great that you can’t undo every single thing.
I was still concerned about the weight of consequences in the game though especially since it’s a primary aspect of choice and story driven titles. The devs were quick to respond to my question and it was a pretty satisfying answer. They pointed out that you won’t always see the immediate repercussions of your actions. Sometimes you’ll see the consequences in later chapters, other times it’ll reveal itself right away. While there was some scenes that were clear if I messed up or not, these were mostly instances that don’t seem to have any lasting or significant impact on the story. Maybe they are just messing with us and they are actually making some of seemingly “right” decisions actually the wrong ones. Who knows? Rewinding a particular sequence might bite you in the ass instead of helping you out.
While Life is Strange reminds gamers of other great games, the title has the potential to shake things up and be remembered by its own merit. Let’s hope that Dontnod Entertainment has better luck the second time around after Remember Me’s lukewarm success.