Critical Play: Mysteries

For this week’s critical play, I tried out Life is Strange, a story about a girl with the power to rewind time. While the game could certainly be characterized as a walking simulator, Max’s (the main character) ability to rewind time serves as the main unique mechanic of the game and sets the first episode of Life is Strange (remastered) apart from other mystery-based walking sims. 

Rewinding Time

Max’s ability to rewind time sparks when she accidentally witnesses her childhood friend being shot in the head by a fellow classmate in the school’s bathroom. Thereafter, throughout the game, players have the ability to rewind time and make different decisions (all of which have consequences on the game’s ending and on your relationships with other characters) to a certain point. As such, you have the ability to rewind time and consider the effects of certain decisions on the course of the game’s story. 

However, this mechanic ties in well when certain decisions are final: for a couple decisions that have a huge impact on the course of the game’s story, your decision is final: the game explicitly states that you will not be able to rewind time and make a different decision. While every decision made in a normal walking sim may feel more mundane, the characterization of these moments as final urges players to think even more carefully and be more mindful about what action they choose to take. 

Narrative and Mystery

While Life is Strange is certainly predicated on the mystery of Max’s vision of an impending storm and her strange abilities to turn back time, the game feels much more like a narrative than a mystery. While playing the game, I felt much more interested in the effects of my decisions than in the overarching mystery of the story. As such, the progression of the mystery felt much more natural, rather than forced: I felt no pressure to scrutinize certain aspects of the narrative in search of an answer to the mystery; instead, I felt fully immersed in the narrative of the game. Many characters were so well-written that they felt real, almost tangible. And, tying in the mechanics of the game, I felt as though each of my decisions would have a real impact on real individuals. 

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