Life Is Strange is an episodic graphic adventure video game developed by Dontnod Entertainment and published by Square Enix. It is available for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One, and consists of five episodes released periodically throughout 2015.
The game’s plot focuses on Maxine Caulfield, a photography student who discovers that she has the ability to rewind time at any moment, leading her every choice to enact the butterfly effect. After having foreseen an approaching storm, Max must take on the responsibility to prevent it from destroying her town. The player’s actions will adjust the narrative as it unfolds, and reshape it once allowed to travel back in time. Fetch quests and making environmental changes represent the forms of puzzle solving in addition to using branching choices for conversation.
Development of Life Is Strange began in April 2013. It was formed with an episodic format in mind, for reasons both financial and creative. The developers conducted research on the setting by travelling to the Pacific Northwest, and subverted known archetypes to make the characters. Player feedback influenced the adjustments made to the episodes. Story and character arc serve as the central point in the game rather than traditional graphic adventure tropes like point-and-click puzzles. The voice recording sessions took place in Los Angeles, California.
During its release, Life Is Strange received generally favourable reviews commending the character development, rewind game mechanic and tackling of taboo subjects. Common criticisms included the slang used, poorlip-syncing in earlier episodes, and tonal inconsistencies in the story. It had sold one million digital copies by the end of July 2015.
Life Is Strange is a graphic adventure, played from a third-person view. The mechanic of rewinding time allows the player to redo any action that has been taken. The player can examine and interact with objects, which enables puzzle solving in the form of fetch quests and making changes to the environment. Items that are collected before time travelling will be kept in the inventory after the fact.
The player can explore various locations in the fictional setting of Arcadia Bay and communicate with non-playable characters. Dialogue exchanges can be rewound whilebranching options are used for conversation. Once an event is reset, the details provided earlier are permitted to avail themselves in the future. In some instances, choices in dialogue will alter and affect the story through short or long-term consequences. For each one of the choices, something good in the short-term could turn out worse later.
Life Is Strange was Dontnod Entertainment‘s second title starring a female protagonist. It was disclosed in a developer diary that, as with its first project, efforts were made by potential publishers to have a male protagonist put in place instead. Square Enixwas the only publisher with no intention to change it. Dontnod co-founder Jean-Maxime Moris brought up the Gamergate controversy in the same context as an example of “a great debate to have”, but put emphasis on that they were not using the issue to stand out from the rest.
The development of Life Is Strange was started in April 2013. It was originally codenamed What If but then retitled to distinguish itself from the film of the same name. The game was born of the idea for the rewind mechanic, which the developer had already experimented on with their last game Remember Me. The lead character Max was created with the ability to rewind time to supplement this mechanism. The episodic format was chosen by the studio for both creative reasons and financial restrictions, allowing them to tell the story in its preferred slow pace. In the beginning stages of the project, the Pacific Northwest was picked as the setting for the purpose of conveying a nostalgic and autumnal feel to the game. The development team visited the region, took photographs, looked at local newspapers and used Google Street View to make sure the environment was accurately portrayed.
It was decided early on that most of the budget be spent on the writing and voice actors. The original story was written in French by Jean-Luc Cano, and converted into a game script by the co-directors and design team. It was subsequently handed over to Christian Divine to be fine tuned in English. Story and character development were highlighted over traditional point-and-click puzzles, making choice and consequence integral to how the narrative unfolds. Hannah Telle auditioned for Max Caulfield in July 2014 and was offered the part; Ashly Burch auditioned for both Max and her given role Chloe Price. The recording sessions were done in Los Angeles, California, with the French developer Dontnod brought in via Skype.
Although it holds significant differences from Remember Me, the game addresses similar themes of memory and identity. Life Is Strange was specified as an analogue look at human identity in contrast to Remember Me, the digital view of the same theme.Running on an improved version of Unreal Engine 3, it makes use of the tools and special effects like lighting and depth of field engineered for Remember Me as well as subsequent advances. Visual effects like post-processes, double exposure and overlapping screen space particles were used as an artistic approach to be displayed while the lead character rewinds time. The textures seen in the game were entirely hand painted, adapted to achieve what art director Michel Koch called “impressionistic rendering”. Elements were adjusted based on player feedback, with influences like The Walking Dead, Gone Home1 and Heavy Rain in mind. The Catcher in the Rye was an additional source of inspiration, whose protagonist Holden Caulfield shares a surname with Max, the game’s lead. The characters were created using known archetypes, at first to establish an entry point for the player, and then to subvert them. For the sake of serving the realism, the supernatural elements of the storyline were designed as a metaphor for the characters’ inner conflict.
The score was composed by Jonathan Morali of the band Syd Matters. Inspired by modern indie folk music, the soundtrack was intended to inform the mood of the game. The music contains a blend of licensed tracks and composed pieces, considered by Dontnod creative director Jean-Maxime Moris as “50% of the experience”. Featured artists include José González, Mogwai, Breton, Amanda Palmer, Brian Viglione, Bright Eyes, Message to Bears, Local Natives, Syd Matters, Sparklehorse, Angus & Julia Stone,alt-J, Mud Flow and Foals.
Square Enix and Dontnod announced Life Is Strange on 11 August 2014. The episodes were released digitally on PC via Steam, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 via PlayStation Network, and Xbox 360 and Xbox One via Xbox Live between 30 January 2015 and 20 October 2015. In November 2014, the publisher expressed interest in having physical copies released of the game, but at the time added that they were 100% focused on the digital release. One year later, the retail edition was set to be released for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One in North America on 19 January 2016 and in Europe on 22 January 2016; the limited edition features an artbook, the soundtrack, score and a director’s commentary.
A Japanese version will be released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 on 3 March 2016.
Life Is Strange received generally favourable reviews. While criticised for its lip-syncing and use of dialogue, critics notably lauded the character development and time travel component, suggesting that there should be more games like it. Eurogamer thought of it as “one of the best interactive story games of this generation” and Hardcore Gamer declared it the sleeper hit of 2015.
The first episode was ranked fifth among the best selling PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 video games of February 2015. Life Is Strange reached one million sales in July 2015, having accumulated over 1.2 million unique players worldwide. The attach rate to units between the complete season and season pass proved to be “extremely strong”, divulged Square Enix.