If it is possible for a single company to have a stranglehold on the interactive storytelling genre, then Telltale are doing a pretty good job at trying to seize the mantle. While the situation is less clear cut on the PC, with a plethora of studios reviving the principles of point and click, the console space is almost exclusively served by the only company which appears to be doing episodic content. So it is nice to see Dotnod Studio attempt to branch into this space with Life is Strange, a 5 part series which is to be released monthly, part one the subject of this review.
The story focusses on Max, a teenager who has recently returned from Blackwell Academy where she spent the last five years studying photography. Starting with a vision of a destructive whirlwind tearing its way towards town, the game cleverly mixes in both an overarching disaster narrative with smaller, more considered character interactions between people Max knows, both in a good and bad way.
These interactions are well done, interesting and at times touching. The games inclinations suggest that Max is seen as somewhat of an oddball by her peers, but that allows for some very endearing moments of kindness between her and the people around her through conversation options and various actions. By the end of the 2 hour or so first episode I felt a real attachment to the person representing my choices on screen, I felt she spoke with my voice and my intentions regardless of the fact the character is both much younger and of a different gender than myself.
This is despite some very cringe worthy writing. The dialogue feels very much like it was written by a demographic much older than the characters they were writing for, with lines feeling dated and forced in an attempt to sound a lot more hip and cool than they needed to be. This does lead to points where I could not help but roll my eyes, but despite this, the actual bonds that were being created felt genuine. The friendship with Chloe in particular is already one I want to explore further.
The game also tries to add a new mechanic into the genre. Rather than follow the same formula of conversation, choice and then action, it allows Max the ability to rewind time at any point, but only for a few seconds. Primarily this is used for various puzzles but it can also be used to change dialogue choices and completely change a reply or to find out further information. At this point it feels slightly underdeveloped with its use too obviously signposted and a bit too glaring to feel it has been incorporated intelligently. However, being able to see how a scene plays out differently and having that option to choose- based on seeing both outcomes never feels like you are cheating. While it needs some further expansion the foundation of an interesting twist on the genre have been firmly laid and my hope is that it can be built upon in the next set of episodes.
As a first attempt at interactive storytelling the opening signs are very encouraging. The characters are well rounded and, more importantly, believable. There are some very interesting plot strands developing which makes me want to progress with this story even further. All the groundwork work has been done and to a very high standard, with only the dialogue really being a dragging factor. Some may also point to a general lack of extra conversation options with characters outside the main plot, but for me this is a good thing as and the game never feels like it has unnecessary padding associated with it. The animation is also a little stiff, a factor that is based on the limited budget and the priority the developers set at the start of the project.
Dotnod deserve a huge amount of credit for delving into a genre that is a complete reversal from the initial effort of Remember Me, and doing so with such a strong air of confidence. They also deserve credit for achieving this with a mainly female cast, a brave choice that may have backfired if the tone had been mishandled. Episode 2 is out now and if they can keep to a regular release schedule they have a great chance of making something both interesting, different and ultimately enjoyable.
Reviewed on the Xbox One