Critical Play: Mysteries

Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game by Square Enix that can be played on PC (Windows, macOS, Linux), mobile (Android and iOS), and consoles (Xbox One/360, PlayStation 3/4). Owing to its mature themes, the game is rated 17+, and its high school setting indicates that it would be best-suited for young adults. The first season is a 5-episode series, with the first episode, Chrysalis, available for free on Steam.

Notable Elements of the Game


Players follow the story of Max Caulfield, a photography senior at Blackwell Academy who discovers she can rewind time while saving her best friend Chloe Price. The game begins with Max seeking out a lighthouse while caught in a hurricane, and as the lighthouse breaks and falls onto her, she suddenly regains consciousness in her photography class, at which point the game hands the control of decision-making in the player’s hands.

While the game builds mystery within the narrative, the primary goal is exploration.


The game guides the player through the overall narrative using short-term exploration-driven objectives. For instance, the time rewind ability gets introduced when Max sees a fellow student shoot Chloe in the bathroom and Max inadvertently rewinds herself back into her classroom. Accordingly, the first objective is to detract the bathroom altercation in order to save Chloe. The game also builds a larger narrative in the background around the disappearance of Rachel Amber, another Blackwell student.

While the game builds mystery within the narrative, the primary goal is clearly exploration, as is evident from the large number of interactive elements, and the relatively small percentage of those that actually move the story forward. For instance, when Chloe tasks Max with putting on some music in her room, Max rambles around the length of the room, interacting with nearly a dozen elements before reaching the disks, which are amongst the elements farthest away from Max when this thread starts.


The mechanics include navigation using the W / A / S / D keys, and Shift to run. Players interact with the environment using the mouse: when the character nears an interactive element, a text overlay shows the possible interactions, and the player drags a central token towards the interaction they want to choose.

Additionally, the character has the ability to reverse time that becomes active at certain setpoints. This is activated by holding the right mouse button. Additionally, certain actions  or decisions can be undone conveniently by pressing Ctrl , which emulates reversing time (i.e. holding the right mouse button) up to a fixed point.

Types of Fun

Life is Strange delivers on narrative, by creating an immersive storyline, and expression, by allowing users to choose the direction the story takes through making decisions for the main character. Additionally, good graphics and continuous audio feedback helps deliver on the sensation aesthetic. Finally, secondary interactions such as a drone flight through which the player can explore the school environment allow simply turning off and enjoying the game, which helps deliver on the abnegation aesthetic.


Some things the game does well include creating an overall story that is intriguing, especially with the lighthouse cut scene that sets everything in motion and leaves the audience highly curious, and creating details that add to the immersion and make the story feel real, such as the detail in Chloe’s room, or the number of people that Max can interact with around the school.

I think some short-term objectives seem to stretch the game and leave the audience anxious for any resolution of the cliffhanger or progress along the larger story. They seem to detract from the sense of urgency that the first cut scene creates. Demoting the storyline of Rachel Amber’s disappearance to the background is good when the narrative in the foreground is introducing characters or setting the scene, but promoting side-narratives such as Victoria’s prank on Dana and Juliet to the forefront creates a kind of dissonance.

Overall, Life is Strange is a fun and immersive game with a rich storyline, well-crafted characters, and in-depth interactions.

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