Critical Play: Mysteries

I played Life Is Strange, developed by Dontnod Entertainment, on the PC. The game is a narrative-driven graphic novel where you play as a higher schooler, Max, who realizes she has the power to rewind time after seeing her friend Chloe get shot. She then uses these powers to help Chloe find her missing friend. While the game is not necessarily graphic, it does have more mature themes with violence, mental illness, and suicide so I think the most suitable audience is high schoolers or older.

Life Is Strange plays as a choose-your-own-adventure walking simulator where the player controls Max, navigating her around the environment, and choosing what actions and dialogues to do. The actions the player takes – or doesn’t take – affects the branching plot and can lead to different endings. Max is able to explore the area and interact with various objects and people to progress the game. The core mechanic of being able to turn back time allows the player to revert to an earlier point if they are unsatisfied with their decision or make a mistake.

Like other walking simulators, the game’s fun is in narrative and discovery. The player can walk around and explore their environment, interacting with various objects and people to glean information and slowly uncover the plot. There are multiple ways the narrative is developed through the game, with dialogue with other characters being the primary but also through Max’s own journal, examining objects, etc. which helps keep the player engaged throughout the length of the main arc. Alongside the main arc, there are also smaller parallel arcs that additionally help keep the player engaged.

The mechanic of going back in time is novel and interesting, but because of its unfamiliarity, I had more difficulty learning how to use it to solve the puzzles in the game. Although I had fun with rewinding time in the beginning, because the mechanic of rewinding time never evolves or changes the puzzles can seem repetitive and get stale.

I would like to see the mechanic of rewinding time get more fleshed out, especially since it is a core mechanic that has been built into the narrative. It seems a bit cheap to just rely on the novelty. By making the mechanic evolve and get more complex, it’s also a good way to introduce players to the mechanic in a simple stage where they can become accustomed to it easier, and then slowly build complexity as they get familiar.

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