Critical Play: Mysteries

For this critical play, I played the game Life is Strange, an episodic adventure/mystery game on macOS created by Square Enix and released on Steam. The target audience for Life is Strange is individuals likely above the age of 12, given the mature nature of the content and the Mature rating. The setting of a high school, however, suggests that an older audience might enjoy the game more by understanding the context of the narrative.

The game is a single-player experience that tells the story of Max Caulfield, a high schooler interested in photography who seeks to uncover her hometown’s secrets and prevent harm by traveling back in time. This narrative is revealed over time as the player interacts with NPCs in her high school and explores the surroundings. The mechanics of this exploration are relatively simple, and clear instructions help players to understand what they can and can’t interact with and how to do so. 

Life is Strange would be described as a ‘single player vs game’ style game because of the individualistic nature of the exploration. Over time, players can use the time traveling feature to explore the full range of potential outcomes as well as the wide impact of every decision they might make. Exploring all the branches of this decision tree create a unique gameplay experience centered on the mystery and the ,air character’s life, allowing for deep immersion in the world created by the game. 

The main types of fun in the game, therefore, are narrative and discovery as the storyline propels gameplay and players are encouraged to discover the implications of their choices. This time traveling mechanic was so incredibly unique and successful and allowed players to really balance exploring all possible branches with simply moving forward in solving the mystery.

To improve the game, I would suggest options to change the design of the text instructions that populate the screen- either by making them smaller, more transparent, or invisible entirely. At times, these instructions and prompts ended up just cluttering the screen and making gameplay difficult and annoying.

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