Mar 15, 2016

The Butterfly Effect

Sometimes a small event or a decision that seems rather unimportant may have a huge impact later down the road, like a Butterfly flapping it´s wings today in New York City may cause a Tornado in San Francisco 3 Weeks later. This is referred to as the Butterfly Effect, and even though it is also a great movie I won´t be talking about that today. Maybe someday later. And that´s because of the game Life is Strange, a episodic Adventure game from the french developer Dontnod Entertainment about students at an art Academy. Yeah, I know, it sounds kinda boring, and the fact that most, if not all, of the characters fit one cliche role or another, however the story about missing girls, drug dealing rich brats and the end of the world is well presented with some twists here and there thrown in for good measure. You play as Maxine "Max" Claufield, a 18 years old photography and movie nerd that doesn´t really have many friends. A huge portion of the game is spent with either getting information or items from other people or solving puzzles, both tasks are centered around Time Travel mechanic that allows you to rewind time within certain limitations. While you rewind Max keeps Items and Information she gathered before, sometimes that opens up new dialouge options or a event you triggered just didn´t happen. At some points the game will face you with decisions that will make things a bit easier or harder for you at a later point depending on how you decided.

Like I said earlier the game is presented in an episodic format, and if done right this can work in favour of the game. Luckily Dontnod got it right at their first try, the fact that each episode is presented as a single day helps here. Sure, it isn´t quite on the level of episodic perfection as the Telltale games, but each Episode of Life is Strange is decent in lenght, filled with enough content to keep it interesting and something happens in every episode that feels important. In addition the game also manages to make your decisions feel important with people reacting different to you depending on what you did or didn´t do before, some scenes are even only avaiable if you did certain things before. And right there we got the big issue with Life is Strange: Your decisions only feel important, but even on your first playthrough you may come to the conclusion that it doesn´t realy matter what you do. The problem at hand is that the game switches timelines and realities so often that it doesn´t really matter in the long run and even if you feel that you screwed something up you can usualy rewind to fix whatever you feel you did wrong. The next sentence may be considered to be a Spoiler by some, so read at your own risk! The sad part about this is that at the end you realize that nothing you did mattered because the only decision that is relevant to trigger each of the two endings is the very last one.

Don´t get me wrong here, the Story is very interesting and emotional in places, even on a second playthrough, but you will never get rid of the feeling that the developrs struggled to find a way to make your decisions important in order to trigger different endings. If you had asked me how I felt about the game right after I finished it for the first time I would have told you that it was one of the best gaming experiences I had in several years, but after thinking about it a bit and playing through it a second time I feel a bit different about it. Everyone who likes a well told Story should defenitly play it, and for the most part Life is Strange is able to keep the illusion alive that what you are doing matters, but it in the end it is little more than those choose-your-own-adventure books that in the end will always come to the same conclusion using different approaches. The unique visuals don´t try to be realistic, they have more of an slight cartoony feel to them with an heavy emphasis on colors to go along with the mood of the main characters and the realy amazing soundtrack never feels out of place.  Overall it is still one of the best gaming experiences I had in recent years, but with a major flaw that most people tend to overlook.