Critical Play: Mysteries

Life is Strange is a series of single-player episodic adventure games created by Dontnod Entertainment, available through Steam. Debuted in 2015, the games tell the story of Max Caulfield who has recently moved back to her home town to study photography in her last year of high school. After viewing a traumatic incident, Max gains the ability to rewind time, which propels the player into a journey to uncover the town’s secrets and save the town, and Max’s loved ones, from their prophesied deaths.

Life is Strange functions primarily as a decision tree narrative, in which the player makes a series of choices that create a specific outcome later down the  line. Because of this style of gameplay, the mystery, which is the central driving force of the game, is virtually impossible to detangle from the game’s narrative as it centers on the protagonist Max and her life in Arcadia Bay. The central mystery of her newly gained time travel abilities and the apocalyptic storm threatening to destroy the town allow the player to navigate the narrative with additional information, such that the player can make certain choices that either move the narrative along towards exploring the main mysteries or skating by with a less in-depth view of the environment and moments. The time travel mechanic, such that it restricts the player to a certain amount of rewindable time, forces the player to make decisions about how they travel through the narrative and interact with different people and objects in real time, aiding the gravity of the mystery, as the player sometimes cannot tell until later the full consequences of their actions.

I personally really enjoyed how the time travel mechanic interacts with the central mystery and narrative – the mechanic does a great job of exerting pressure on the player to make a decision while still creating an exciting environment that players can be excited to explore. The game creates a relatively stress-free environment to first learn the mechanics, which helps to let the player feel anchored within the gameplay, then the game jumps more heavily into larger narrative decisions. Personally, I may have tended to overthink some choices too much and take too long looking through environments (at least if assuming a time crunch), however I enjoyed that the game (for the most part) allowed me to explore as much as I wanted. Overall, I really enjoyed this first episode of the game and hope to play through further episodes in the future!

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