Life is Strange in a nutshell is an adventure game that offers moral choices throughout a normal high school students life. With the addition of a time travelling superpower.
Your controllable protagonist is 18 year old Maxine Caulfield, known as Max throughout the game. Her surname is interesting in that it is the same as Holden Caulfield from J.D Salinger’s Catcher in the Rye. Max’s character though does not mirror the duality of Holden’s; where his is an existence of contradicting personality quirks, hers is a more typical teenagers. Her characterisation should improve with more episodes, along with further information on her supporting cast.
Max has moved back to her home town of Arcadia Bay to attend the acclaimed Blackwell Academy where she studies photography. During one of her classes she appears to blackout and experience the opening scene of the terrifying tornado. This she believes is a premonition of a catastrophe to come and somehow later she is invested with her time reversal ability. It does not delve any further into the abilities origin and it is probably a lesser evil leaving an unsolved mystery than giving an unsatisfactory magical or scientifically incorrect reason behind her new found power.
The setting is rendered in a nice way, with some parts that could be called beautiful. Traversing the various areas is simple and you’re never at that much of a loss as to your current objective. The world is populated with lots of collectables and Easter eggs for keen explorers. I’m not much of a collector in games so I was not that bothered about collecting photo opportunities or finding all the possible intrigues within the Academy grounds and the dormitories. For those that are more completionist though, they will not be disappointed even in this short episode. There is a gamut of various small additions that round off the environment and make it more believable. Whether it’s graffiti on a tree, the unique decoration in your classmates room or the various posters that litter the hallways you always feel like the area is lived in. The characters have an existence outside of the brief interactions you have with them.
For instance in the following quick video you can see Max walking down the hallway with characters interacting without her. There are missing posters on the wall, a kid getting bullied, vending machines and lots of other small things that you might not notice but add to the general enjoyable experience.
Although some of the dialogue and voice acting has been slated in reviews it serves its purpose and even raises a few laughs. Two of the more amusing lines included Chloe going to town Walter White style and Max’s friend Warren being a pop culture pirate.It was a shame these were delivered with sometimes distracting lip syncing; whether this was a graphical glitch personal to my play through or a common one I’m unsure. (Another players comments on Metacritic echo my sentiment, so it would appear I’m not alone.)
It is interesting that no one has picked up on the usage of “Arcadia” as the town name, at least in the reviews I’ve seen. In antiquity and the Renaissance, Arcadia was a reference to an unobtainable pastoral utopia. The setting is suitably pastoral despite being a small town. The area near the lighthouse is devoid of other buildings and evokes this image most throughout the first episode. It is also at first a utopian escape for the protagonist Max. Somewhere she can achieve a different self that she believes will be more fulfilling whilst studying at the prestigious Blackwell Academy, with her dream tutor. Like any situation it is far from the perfection she desired. Especially with the “unobtainable” hammer that is the tornado threatening to destroy the idealised Arcadia Bay.
The choices play out much like Telltale’s games, with very few of them resolved in the first episode. This is both annoying and great. It’s good because it makes you want to play the rest of the episodes and adds the tension needed to make a compelling story. It’s bad because the episodes are staggered and with such a large gap the choice may be forgotten and the tension built will dissipate. An interesting difference from the Telltale games is the lack of a time limitation on the choices, you can take as much time as you please agonising whether a or b is the right option. You can then, due to your ability to turn back time, change your choice. This is made more likely with Max’s questioning doubts after each choice you make. She has the habit of highlighting the negative possibilities from your choices; this though occurs with the vast majority of choices and becomes irritating near the end.
Finally, should you buy this game?
If you are looking for a cheap adventure game with difficult choices that draws you in through its narrative and are not hung up on the fact that you play a 18 year old American girl, then definitely yes. If you feel your connection with the story; my own was slightly hindered by not having experienced the traditional American high school life, won’t be sufficient and that you’d be alienated by the experience, then it’s not a game for you.