For those of us who enjoy choice games, in which the narrative of the game bends to the decisions we make, leading to an ending our every action has help to create, we know Life Is Strange is very highly praised, amongst the majority, as an incredible game within the genre. But not for me. This is a controversial opinion, I think, as almost every person I’ve seen play-through it has given it a positive review, so I want to offer my two cents and give an alternative opinion. And no; This review is not one-sided. As with all games and products, this game has its ups and downs, so I will be acknowledging things I like as well as the things I don’t.
So, why does this game suck?
Nothing you do matters or impacts the narrative in any meaningful way.
Yes, you read that right. Not a single choice you make in this game matters.
For now though, here is an example of a choice that made no sense. It is, in fact, the very first big decision you are allowed to make. Your two options are to either report Nathan Prescott for having a gun in school, or to keep the information to yourself. If you choose to report Nathan, your ever-so caring Principle chooses to do nothing. He simply tells you Nathan belongs to the richest family in town and that he’s scared of saying anything. It is presumed something happened behind the scenes, however, as you will later get messages from Nathan’s father threatening to get lawyers involved, but they lead nowhere. If you choose to keep the information to yourself you get told off for looking suspicious and not going outside quicker, because the fire alarm had gone-off. The only difference between the two choices is that Nathan’s big scary daddy doesn’t message you. But because Nathan is such a dick, the likelihood is that you’ll piss him off eventually anyway, and at some point Nathan’s dad will message you. His messages mean nothing by the way, they go nowhere.
What also goes nowhere are the further encounters with Nathan. Every single time you meet Nathan throughout the game will play out in exactly the same way regardless of the choice you made. Whether you reported him or not, nothing changes and every conflict boils down to you thinking, “Oh gosh, Nathan is a big mean bully”. You get perhaps one or two lines of dialogue extra if you choose to report him because Nathan is annoyed at you, but they don’t effect the outcome of the encounters because, as I stated before, the outcomes are the same regardless of the choice you make. Warren will always get a head-butt and you will always get in the car with Chloe. Nathan will always phone you to warn you about Mister Jefferson, regardless of how much you’ve dicked him over.
Another choice that means absolutely nothing is saving Kate from committing suicide. This is presented as perhaps the most devastating moment in the game, but regardless of if you manage to save Kate, or if she jumps to her death, the rest of the game plays as normal. The only difference between saving Kate and not saving Kate is how depressed people in the school will be after it happens. Sure, it affects the NPC’s, but the plot will continue to progress and the story will continue to unfold in almost exactly the same way regardless of if Kate lives or dies. There is one small change in the story… One small, minor change. If Kate lives, you go to her to get some information about Nathan Prescott, Mister Jefferson and the Dark Room… But if she dies you just discover it yourself anyway in the same amount of time as it takes to talk to Kate. So it ultimately doesn’t matter. Kate’s life is insignificant to the plot because if you save her she helps you, but if she dies you figure it out yourself anyway. You could argue that it helps develop your character and affects how you, playing as Max, make choices in the future… But the truth is it doesn’t. If she dies, so what? You’re still going to play the game the exact same way, whether it be by saving everyone else possible as the game goes on or by letting them die. And Max as a character doesn’t really develop because she is you. She isn’t making choices based off of information she’s learnt, you’re making the choices, most likely, based on what you want to do in your play through.
Don’t even get me started on the ending. I’ve seen the endings to this game be praised repeatedly and I can’t understand why. You essentially get a the choice of sacrificing everyone in town to save Chloe, or sacrificing Chloe to save everyone in the town. If you choose to save Chloe there is some depressing music, the town dies and then you drive through town… But there are no bodies, the roads are clear and there are sunny skies… The town was just hit by a tornado created from the manipulation of time! Where’s the damage!? This ending cut scene lasts about twenty seconds; It’s disappointing as hell. There’s no dialogue or anything, it’s just anti-climactic.
The other ending, the one which has almost universally been recognised as awesome, is actually… Okay, it is awesome. If you have enjoyed playing, this ending is satisfying. It’s emotional to sacrifice Chloe and watch her die. But if that’s the case, then why do I still dislike the ending?
It’s because no matter what choices you make, who you side with or what paths you go down, you always get the same two choices at the end. Every thing leads to the same choice: Kill Chloe or don’t kill Chloe. You might be saying that a lot of choice games do this and lead to one ultimate end choice, and you would be right for the most part. I guess it’s a flaw with this genre of games as a whole, but let me compare this ending to the ending of the Walking Dead Season 2 to try and change your perspective.
Where as in Life Is Strange your choice is kill Chloe or don’t kill Chloe, there are so many other choices to be made in the Walking Dead Season 2. You can end the game on your own with a baby, AJ. You can end the game with baby AJ and your partner, Jane. You can end the game with baby AJ and your partner Kenny. You see, baby AJ is lost by Jane and Kenny gets pissed off and attacks her. Unable to break them up you, the player, can either let Kenny kill Jane or save Jane by killing Kenny. Killing Kenny allows you to end the game with Jane… But the kicker is that she didn’t lose baby AJ, but hid him intentionally so she could kill Kenny. Then you get the badass choice to tell Jane to leave you, for lying to you in order to kill Kenny, and never come back or allow her to stay. Depending on what you choose you either end the game alone or with Jane. But if you allow Kenny to kill Jane, you get the choice afterwards, a second time, to kill Kenny… and he tells you to, “just do it”. If you kill Kenny you end the game on your own. If you spare Kenny, you and him go to another settlement. Here you get ANOTHER choice. The settlement won’t let you in because there isn’t enough room, but they will let you without Kenny because you have a baby. You can either choose to leave Kenny and go into the settlement with baby AJ or stay with Kenny and take some small amount of supplies from the settlement to survive outside on your own with him. Depending on what you choose you get the ending with you, baby AJ and your partner, Kenny or you on your own with baby AJ inside a settlement.
Can you see how much potential a choice game can have? The Walking Dead Season 2 has four endings: Alone with baby AJ, with baby AJ and Kenny, with baby AJ and Jane and alone with baby AJ inside a settlement. All of these endings have multiple ways of getting too; For example you may let Kenny kill Jane but, thinking Kenny did wrong, kill him anyway afterwards and end up alone. Or you could kill Kenny before he kills Jane and then tell Jane to leave you and never come back, after discovering her betrayal, thus being alone with baby AJ.
Can you see how something like this, with well thought out, meaningful and impactful choices can be an effective means of telling an emotional story? It really contrasts to the linear, on the rails story of Life Is Strange.
I guess if I were to conclude this review I would say that, while Life Is Strange has a decent story and is emotional if you become invested (both positive things). But it holds your hand too much. The choices aren’t hard to make; There are very obvious right and wrong choices and they don’t really matter or get you anywhere different. It’s all well and good having a good story, but if the gameplay doesn’t pan out then what makes it a good game? A game is about gameplay, not story, and the weak gameplay here is in the choices that define the game. Here’s a nice metaphor; A story is just a nice bonus. If a game is a bun and the gameplay is the burger between the bun, the main thing you’re experiencing, then the story is all the salad and cheese around the burger; A happy bonus, but the burger is the key element. Life Is Strange isn’t a burger though, it’s just the salad and cheese.