Life is Strange: Chrysalis (Xbox One Review)
Life is Strange. Life is Beautiful. And life is short-lived. Everything we do has its consequences. Every action has an equal and opposite reaction. But you already knew that didn’t you? I mean we have all seen “The Butterfly Effect” and if we haven’t somebody can fill you in on the subject during the first episode of Dontnod’s episodic graphic adventure, Life is Strange.
Dontnod are a French company with a massive vision and eye for the visually striking. First bursting on to the gaming scene with their seminal title, Remember Me, Dontnod showed a level of visual prowess and eye catching colour schemes. Since the release of Remember Me Dontnod had ran in to a bit of financial trouble, thankfully finding their feet later to produce Life is Strange. A far softer and easier to digest game.
The story is centred around the sleepy town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon. A town in which our protagonist, Maxine Caulfield (AKA Max), moved away from several years ago. Leaving her best friend Chloe at the worst possible time. The game opens with a chaotic whirlwind battering against the bay, a foreshadowing of the worst possible outcome of the butterfly effect perhaps? Max looks on in pale faced fear questioning the reality of the situation only to awaken in the classroom in the company of her new classmates. Shortly after that Max discovers she has the ability to rewind time, an integral mechanic in the story telling of Life is Strange. Through these newly acquired powers Max can manipulate and replay situations towards a desired outcome, with unforeseen consequences. The groundwork put in to developing relations and setting is astounding. There is a real sense of character about Max, you even have the ability to read her heartfelt journal entries and get a real feeling for all the characters present. The tropes of your average American high school movie are all presents; Goths, Jocks, Preps, Hipsters, Skaters, and Geeks can all be seen and interacted with in their own way.
Being able to manipulate time is the crux of Life is Strange; it can be used for problem solving or ensuring you make the correct dialogue choices or just to create a level of unease in your decisions that you spend 20 minutes trying to decide what decision you really wanted to make. The puzzles are usually telegraphed to a point that you would be hard pressed to call them puzzles but they are definitely enjoyable. Beyond the obvious puzzles to bypass obstacles the use of time manipulation can also be used to line up the perfect shots. As a budding photography student this is a nice addition to capture the moment with Urban Outfitters latest craze, Polaroids. Don’t fret if you miss them, there is also a collector mode for those who got to the end of the chapter and realised how much they missed.
Arcadia Bay is majestic place to be, the art style is soft on the eyes like a lucid watercolour painting. Taking in the scenery and appreciating the world in which Life is Strange is set is key to making the most of the experience. The soft palette of the posters and Max contrast with the vivid lifestyle of Chloe. The electric blue hair and her punk rock attitude are juxtaposed to Max and her soft guitar music and demeanour. The soundtrack is well chosen and really compliments the setting, we hear the likes of José Gonzalez and Bright Eyes, and it just ties the neat little package all together.
I am completely in awe of Life is Strange, it’s a beautiful game that encourages exploration in every facet. It’s a game of trial and error and then retrial. If you run straight to the finish line you might be disappointed with the length but taking the time to savour the atmosphere and budding relationships between Max and her classmates you will find a heartfelt tale steeped in Twin Peaks-esque vibes (there is even an Easter egg or two for avid fans of TP). There is definitely massive focus on the butter fly effect, hell even the first episode’s name derives from the maturing process of a butterfly, but it’s done so well that it doesn’t feel cliché. I loved every minute so much that I played it twice in one sitting just to see how things might change, I just wished it was either a little longer or the wait for Episode 2 was a lot shorter.