Life is Strange: Episode 1: Chrysalis | Published by Square Enix in 2015 | Steam
This is my first time playing an intense walking simulator and I have to say Life is Strange really demonstrated the power of strong narratives. From the beginning, players are hooked by very dark and heavy scenes leaving you wanting to know more. As you interact with many objects and people, you begin to learn quickly about Max Caulfield’s life and the environment that she’s in. The game begins to ramp up when your decisions become more consequential to the narrative’s outcome and you learn about Max’s strange powers…
Luckily, navigating the simulator is pretty standard to other simulators (using mouse to direct point of view and keyboard to move on the map). A child who plays Minecraft could learn it pretty quickly. However, I definitely believe this game is meant for mature audiences as there are themes of violence, murder, abuse, and drugs. More specifically, I do think that this game is for those who are excited by stories and long-term consequences. It is not a game where players defeat immediate enemies to advance. It may require that players be patient to uncover all of the clues before finding solutions to the problems.
What is most impressive about Life is Strange is the delicate balance between reality and fantasy in the narrative. There are so many realistic and detailed objects found in the high-school setting that the player can interact with. It almost feels like you need to interact with every single object and person to get the most information and solve the mystery. However, at the same time, it does seem a bit overwhelming to remember every single clue you come across. What information is helpful? What can you discard? Who should you talk to? Possibly the writers knew that the player wouldn’t remember everything and that’s why Max’s fantastical powers are supposed to help you acquire knowledge ahead of time. It’s a mystery just trying to figure out which information to keep.
Unfortunately, there is some information that even Max’s powers can’t help you with like her text messages, her journal, the photos she takes, the objects she collects… I wasn’t sure how to access my inventory or how often I should be checking the text messages. Once I finished the episode, I realized that the text messages were pretty much useless. If I were to change the first episode, I would probably limit access of some of the resources to not overwhelm the player at the beginning. I’m sure they could be more significant in later episodes, but the objects and people are sufficient clues for the first episode.
In general, you get a sense that there’s a lot of mysteries to uncover by the end. How did Max receive these powers? Why is this random girl Rachel missing? (Why do people keep talking about her?) Why is Chloe’s dad a stalker military security guard? They must all be connected in some way but from the beginning, these mysteries are so loosely connected, you really can’t tell from the first episode. Square Enix did a great job hooking players and I expect that they will continue to do that in later episodes.