Game Of The Month: November – Life Is Strange

Life Is Strange [official site] Episode One came out all the way back in January of this year but with the release of the final episode a couple of weeks ago, this is a fine time to celebrate the series as a whole. Dontnod’s episodic adventue is a mystery-drama set in a small Oregon town. Combining time travel, photography, tragedy, terror and scrapbooks, it’s all but untouched by the typical canon of gaming inspirations and feels entirely comfortable within its episodic format. If you only have time for one game this month, catch up with this unexpected treat.

We’ve written about some of the individual episodes as they released, and discussed our thoughts and feelings as some of the twists and turns hit us hard. All of those links contain spoilers though. Thankfully, good ol’ Quinns was on hand to explain the game’s central rewinding mechanic in one episode of his fabulous COGWATCH series. No spoilers there.

There’s even more video analysis in the form of a critical piece by Marsh Davies, created as part of his Fail Forward series, which covered the aspects of games that don’t quite work.

Why is November’s game a game that was released in, uh, January, March, May, July and October?

We pick a released game because we want to be able to play the games we choose as Game of the Month, not speculatively guess at what might be worth your time. That means that the games we choose will already be out, and in some cases may have been released years ago if they have suddenly become relevant again. It also means you can start playing the game we pick immediately if you so choose.

Have you guys done this before?

Yes. We’ve so far included Cities: Skylines, Grand Theft Auto V, Invisible, Inc, Her Story, Rocket League, Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain and Undertale. All of their respective features and GOTM coverage can be read here.

More Life Is Strange coverage will follow between now and the end of the month.

79 Comments

  1. Stellar Duck says:

    I’m happy to read this!

    Life is Strange deserves to be discussed, I think. I suspect that unless something crazy happens, it’ll be my favourite game from this year.

    • Faxmachinen says:

      I am also happy to read this, and I fully agree with what Quinns is saying in that COGWATCH episode. I think Life is Strange is obligatory to play at this point, even just for its innovation in mixing mechanics and narrative.

      • Stellar Duck says:

        Yea, agreed.

        While the game stumbles at times, those “lows” are insignificant compared to its highs. Some scenes of this game are etched into my memory, some because of the mechanics and some just for the way they managed to set the scene and capture a mood, a feeling or a state of mind.

        The swimming pool scene holds a special place to me because it brought back some feelings I’d almost forgotten I once had when I was young and everything was more intense and, maybe, felt more earnest.

        • Faxmachinen says:

          I did love that scene, for me it marks the start of the more-than-friendship between the two characters.

          But my most memorable moment was when Max had to convince Chloe not to go to the junkyard. All the options were there from the start, and there was no in-game knowledge to be gained and used in a replay. But you could still fail to convince Chloe, and through a combination of Chloe’s expressions and Max’ inner monologue at the end, the game strongly hinted that you had to appeal to Chloe’s feelings.

          Telling Chloe how you really felt through conversation options you hadn’t wanted to pick earlier, combined with the superb animation and voice acting, sure hit a soft spot. Anxiety has never felt so real in a computer game.

  2. CannedLizard says:

    Aw, not 80 Days? Bummer. I suppose I should check out Life is Strange, though. People’s mixed reactions to certain episodes, and the fact that I still need to finish Tales from the Borderlands (which is excellent!) is keeping me wary of it, though.

  3. Frosty Grin says:

    One thing I haven’t seen discussed is whether the game is going to feel better (to new players) without the wait between the episodes. Probably not. Absence makes the heart grow fonder? Plus there is some sense of semi-permanence between the episodes when you can contemplate your choices.

    • Uninteresting Curse File Implement says:

      Absence does not make the heart grow fonder, but I probably wouldn’t marathon Life is Strange if given the chance. It’s just not designed with this in mind; so much melodrama in one run can’t be great, imo. Then again, some episodes have cliffhangers that will drive you up the wall.

  4. Nevard says:

    I’ve had a weird experience where every critical source I’ve read has loved the ending of this series, but every source closer to me has vehemently detested it, and felt it ruined any sense of goodwill they might have felt towards the series due to a perceived value judgement on certain relationships and disappointment that it continues several inevitable and detested narrative tropes.
    Oh well.

    • mavrik says:

      Honestly (and at a risk of sounding condescending) I’ve mostly seen the opinions split over the line of maturity. People that have been through life a bit mostly get the point of the ending and have already learned that some things cannot be fixed. Others are still demanding that stories in games end to fit into exactly their opinion of reality.

      • Nevard says:

        That definitely does sound condescending yes.

      • Frosty Grin says:

        I think that’s almost entirely confirmation bias on your part. Yeah, you like feeling that you’re mature. But many people actually didn’t like the lead-up to the endings, not the ending themselves. And I agree, the game could have handled it better. The same endings could feel better in a different context.

        • Faxmachinen says:

          I don’t agree with it, but it’s a fair anecdote. Also, I don’t recall mavrik stating that he liked the ending.

      • Carcer says:

        You got me, I’m just mad that my game about time travel rewind powers and creating alternate timelines with photographs did not match my “opinion of reality”. I’m not sure what that means exactly – perhaps I felt the time travel powers were unrealistic, or maybe I’m upset that the game was not like my own life, where obviously everything goes exactly how I want it all the time.

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        gritz says:

        Intensely condescending.

    • Distec says:

      Will depend on the person, but I much prefer to have all episodes ready to go rather than waiting. That’s how I bought TWDs1 and TWAU.

      Conversely, I had stopped caring entirely about TWDs2 by the time its finale rolled out. I haven’t even finished it. There were other issues affecting that series, to be sure. But gotta strike while the iron’s hot.

  5. Crusoe says:

    B-but… the dialogue is awful. Beyond awful. I couldn’t get past the first twenty minutes.

    *monotone voice* “Wanna go grab a cup of tea and bitch about life?”
    That isn’t how teenagers talk, and if they did, they might not sound like they’d only recently learned to use their vocal cords. Ugh!

    • mavrik says:

      I think the catch is mostly that dialog significantly improves later (especially after first episode – I guess the authors listened to criticism) so most people raving about it have played beyond 20 minutes :)

    • Myrdinn says:

      Word. I had this game recommended to me by some friends and I’ve been struggling to get through the dialogue. I’m normally a compulsive completionists but this must be one of the few times I’m just racing through sections getting to where I want to be. I felt real awkward having ‘random teen conversations’ on campus and such.

      I’ll give it another chance though, hopefully it gets better.

    • James says:

      Well, as a teenager I can confirm that we sometimes talk like that. Not often (even we can’t stand it for long periods of time) but I can easily picture most of the people I know saying that line.

      • Rizlar says:

        Also how teenagers talk in real life and the kind of dialogue that appeals to teenagers or reflects how they think/feel aren’t necessarily the same thing.

        Unrelatedly – that COGWATCH is the most I have heard about Life is Strange since everything else seems full of spoilers. It looks rather good!

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          Angstsmurf says:

          I’ve been trying to play this several times, but I just can’t seem to get past the “cool” teacher in the first scene. He is just to painful and embarassing to watch. Is there a mod to skip or remove him?

          • Stellar Duck says:

            He’s supposed to be a smarmy jack ass, I’d say. Removing him would be a bit strange in later parts.

            However, you won’t be seeing too much of him in general.

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            zapatapon says:

            Confirming what Stellar Duck said, he doesn’t get too much screen time, plus you get the option of screwing him over by the end of Ep. 2, if you’re inclined to.

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            Thulsa Hex says:

            Also, having been to art school myself, he’s not an entirely unbelievable character.

        • FurryLippedSquid says:

          Your name sounds like a pot-smoking protagonist from He-Man’s Eternia.

          • Rizlar says:

            Actually it’s from my original WoW character, a troll hunter with a pet called Thundercat, so you are pretty much on the money!

    • Faxmachinen says:

      I can’t speak for American teenagers, but as a person who takes the bus to work, I can tell you that real teenager speak is a thousand times worse. It is a parody of itself which is neither funny nor interesting.

      On a tangential note, what’s with all the people who complain about how real teenagers don’t use the word “hella”? Did they even play the game?

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        Angstsmurf says:

        I doubt it’s even possible for a grown-up to write naturalistic teen dialogue and then having grown-up actors read it without it sounding off somehow. That is why the best teen movies don’t even try. They just let teens talk like (movie) grown-ups, invent a new entertaining way of talking (Heathers) or let real teens improvise (We Are the Best).

      • RabbitIslandHermit says:

        The thing is that teenagers definitely do use “hella,” at least they did in Southern California when I was a teen not too long ago, and I’m pretty sure it’s more common in the Pacific Northwest.

        • RabbitIslandHermit says:

          I mean I totally accept that I’m probably completely out of touch at this point and teens don’t speak like that anymore, but I feel like a lot of the criticism of the “teens don’t speak like that” variety boils down to regional differences.

    • Crusoe says:

      Thanks for the replies everyone, I guess I’ll give it a go again.

    • draglikepull says:

      I’m in strong agreement with this. I played maybe 30-40 minutes of the first episode, but the writing was just so bad that I couldn’t stick with it. And I don’t just mean that the teenagers don’t sound like any teenager I’ve ever known (though that’s true) or that the adults don’t sound like any adult I’ve ever known (true too). I also mean the writing is full of terrible exposition (like when the principal says something like “I can’t suspend that kid, his dad’s a real big shot in this town” rather than letting that kind of detail come out naturally). And it also stretched my suspension of disbelief past its breaking point (*minor early game spoiler alert* the part where the kid pulls out the gun during the early bathroom scene is absurd). It’s just bad writing from every angle.

  6. TheAngriestHobo says:

    Just this once, RPS, I won’t complain or argue if you plaster the website with GotM articles. LiS is an absolute work of art and deserves to be talked about.

  7. Phil says:

    Yay: more LiS articles!

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      Thulsa Hex says:

      I’m sorry… the pedant in me has seen this too much lately to let it go, so…

      Although the word “is” is small, it’s still a verb and verbs are always capitalised in titles: Life Is Strange / LIS.

  8. LogicalDash says:

    I’ve mostly been avoiding it because it sounds like a romantic drama with a superpower or two. If a Platonic playthrough is actually feasible, I might reconsider.

    • rabbit says:

      A platonic playthru is … extremely doable. Any romance between the two characters is up for interpretation & dependent on yr own actions. 100% recommend the game. Flawed, definitely, but lovely.

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        Thulsa Hex says:

        Agreed. Although characters can interpret certain actions to mean something more than you intended, your own character’s inner monologue stays relatively ambiguous. I can only think of two moments where you can choose to “commit” to the notion of romance, but even then it’s ambiguous.

  9. Faxmachinen says:

    I can’t speak for American teenagers, but as a person who takes the bus to work, I can tell you that real teenager speak is a thousand times worse. It is a parody of itself which is neither funny nor interesting.

    On a tangential note, what’s with all the people who complain about how real teenagers don’t use the word “hella”? Did they even play the game?

    • Faxmachinen says:

      The only thing worse than real teenagers is this comment system.

    • rabbit says:

      Londoner who’s spent a fair bit of time on the west coast & can confirm that (much to my surprise), people out there say hella *all the time* – at least in the areas of California in which I spent most of my time

      • Faxmachinen says:

        Interesting! I wonder how Chloe picked it up, it doesn’t seem like she gets to travel much.

      • RabbitIslandHermit says:

        Yes, absolutely, and I’m no linguist but small town Oregon definitely seems like the kind of place that would be heavily influenced by Bay Area slang.

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          Thulsa Hex says:

          I also got that impression from my brief visit to Oregon earlier this year. Younger folk from California regularly travel up to Portland for events (or even move there) and you can see it’s influence quite plainly. I imagine that it’s not uncommon for a teenager who likes rock music and skateboarding, and dreams of escaping small town OR, to imitate folks from the “cool” Bay Area.

  10. arhaine says:

    I really don’t get why you post a game of the month at the start of the month.
    Especially this November.

    Maybe its because of the cult following this fanfic with graphics managed to obtain…

    • Faxmachinen says:

      Which “fanfic with graphics” are you talking about? If you mean Life is Strange, what would it be a fanfic of?

      • rabbit says:

        Wouldn’t worry about it, think OP’s perfectly happy just being smarter than everyone else.

      • RabbitIslandHermit says:

        It involves teenage girls and is therefore automatically fan fiction according to some on the internet.

      • arhaine says:

        It the writing level, not the genre.
        At least till episode 5 they had some choice mechanics, but in 5 they just couldn’t bring it all together, so they pulled a Mass Effect 3 and basically made all choices irrelevant.
        I may sound angry (I am, most certainly), but I didn’t think this game deserves it’s hype when they released the 1st episode and I don’t think it deserves it now even more.

        • Kala says:

          Completely agree with this as Game of the Month, as it’s probably my GotY anyways ^^ (and am always happy to read more on it).

          • Kala says:

            Argh. Sorry. Was meant to be a general “comment on this story”. (>.<)

        • brucethemoose says:

          I’m beating a dead horse here, but what exactly do you expect from an ending? 100 different branches based on the little choices you made earlier in the game.

          Pre-DLC/mods, Mass Effect 3 is certainly the other extreme, but writing/recording dialogue for every possible outcome isn’t practical.

          • Faxmachinen says:

            There were subtle references to previous choices and consequences everywhere else in the game, so I found it odd that there were none in the ending.

    • Llewyn says:

      Well, you won’t: you’ve clearly never managed to read any of the articles to the end where they explain every bloody time how their GotM system works for both those new to the series and the eternally hard of thinking.

      • arhaine says:

        Oh, but I most certainly do read till the end.
        I just don’t see any logic in this mechanic.

  11. clippa says:

    Pfff, you call that a game?
    Game of the month is flamebreak until mushihimesama comes out.

  12. Atokinlemon says:

    I really don’t understand how people played this as episodes were released, I played this game after release, every night for a week and waiting for a chance to play it was tough. If it clicks, it clicks.
    This game is not for everybody and there’s nothing in this game (except maybe the atmosphere) that I’d say is perfect, but I actually got a bit choked up as the outro song started to play and that hasn’t happened to me in a long time.

    Fail forward did a really good job of getting rid of any cringe feelings I had from the dialogue. “Teenagers don’t talk that way” was, in my mind, replaced with “that’s what I must’ve sounded like to adults as a teenager” and that kind of changes things. And I think characters should be relatable more than “realistic”. In any case, you get used to it and characters really get deeper as the story progresses.

    • ribby says:

      I suppose that works if you’re an adult. My reaction was closer to disgust. Adults think we talk like /this/!?

  13. Monggerel says:

    Actually, the game of this particular month is Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance, which is a wildly superior game that is also about teenage romance and personal responsibility

    • Monggerel says:

      This is not a joke. That is actually what Revengeance is about, the same way Mafia II is about middle-class disappointment in the goodwill of organisations

      • Monggerel says:

        And Spec Ops: The Line is about Six Days in Fallujah
        And Fallout: New Vegas is about libertarianism
        And Dark Souls II is about the inevitable devaluation of nostalgia

  14. wondermoth says:

    I don’t know about Seeing Behind The Curtain, but I’ve now seen behind Quinn’s dressing gown, and am intimately acquainted with the contours of the upper thigh, and possibly even some grundle.

    Better lighting next time, please.

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    Thulsa Hex says:

    I love this game, despite its flaws, and I enjoy a lot of the discussions that have come about as a result. My one favourite thing about the game is its setting. From the get-go, it really drew me in. Since I used to go to art school (fuck, I’m really becoming American aren’t I?), and photography was one of my electives, starting-off in that classroom properly affected me. It felt like I was back there: The perspective from the desk! The props in the room! Even the lecture/conversation they were having was very close to those I would have experienced in college. But the one thing that made it so convincing to me was how, when you inspected the items on your desk, Max’s inner monologue drowned out the conversation the class was having — but never paused it — basically emulating how your mind can wander in class when you’re not paying attention. It was brilliant!

    That, coupled with the fabulous hallway stroll (with earbuds in), made it one of the best openings to any game I have ever played.

    Also, some butt kissing: Nice one, RPS. I think you’ve collectively made real good choices every month since this feature started, whether I am personally invested in the game in question (Rocket League / MGSV / LIS), or not (GTAV). The list is already quite diverse (in both genre and production budget) and it’s hard to argue with your reasoning for each individual choice. In short: good show.

    • ribby says:

      “Max’s inner monologue drowned out the conversation the class was having — but never paused it — basically emulating how your mind can wander in class when you’re not paying attention. It was brilliant!”

      That’s hardly a novel idea…. Happens in films, TV shows and even rubbishy College’humor’ sketches

      • Kala says:

        “That’s hardly a novel idea…. Happens in films, TV shows and even rubbishy College’humor’ sketches”

        But not so much in games (that I’ve noticed). Which might be the point.

  16. Wagrid says:

    This game is hella great.

  17. ribby says:

    Disappointed but it was obviously going to be this month’s pick

    • Stellar Duck says:

      Goodness, you really have it in for this game.

      You’ve been griping on every single post about it for a year or however long it was since Ep. 1 are released.

      Did Dontnod piss in your Khorneflakes or something?

  18. the_r says:

    My GoTY, as of now, is the Witcher, but Life is Strange is definitely the game I most cared about, and I think it’s gonna stay like that for a while. It’s a bit like the LIS endings (no spoiler, I think). One is theoretically considered to be the “better one”, but against logic I went for the other one. I went with my gut and I’m ok with my decision.

  19. noodlecake says:

    I bounced off the first episode hard. I didn’t believe in any of the characters. It felt like somebody who had never spoken to a teenager’s idea of what american teenagers are like. I played 2/3 of the first episode and gave up because it just didn’t suspend my disbelief at all. Everything that was meant to be funny wasn’t.

    Tales From The Borderlands is the same kind of game, and also had it’s final episode come out recently. A little bit sad that this got more credit from RPS than that, when TFTBL is better in every way.

    I did like the visual style of Life is Strange, though. It’s what enticed me to buy the first episode in the first place.