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  1. #1
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    Thoughts on Life is Strange - Very Likely Spoilers Ahead

    <<<WARNING: Story is Everything for Life is Strange. If you have any desire to play the game but have not yet completed it you owe it to yourself to leave this thread now. Spoiling even minor plot points for this game will absolutely ruin your experience.>>>






    Ok. You were warned.


    Life is Strange is a game that sets out to prove that games can tell the sorts of powerful, character driven, emotionally charged stories most often found in novels and short stories, while also maintaining game play aspects unique to this medium.

    It fails.

    This failure has nothing to do with the quality of the game's narrative. The story is good. Well told and filled with memorable characters, most of whom are both believable and even relatable. I identified throughout the tale with Max, the main character, with whom I shared the common bonds of a birthday in our favorite month, a pain in the ass, sidekick female friend who was a terrible influence and who both of us thought we could save from herself. Mistakenly, as it turned out - and in the game (and for once, I actually mean that). Max and I both agonize over our decisions, hoping we did the right thing where it was available and worrying that we didnt. Max, like many of the folks found in Life is Strange, is a solid character who evolves or grows a little over the course of this brief narrative, in a manner befitting quality stories rarely found in this medium.

    So where does the attempt to deliver such a quality tale in video game format falter, if not in the quality of the writing, dialogue and story itself? Exactly where you would, as a gamer, most probably suspect:

    In the game play segments.

    Simply put, almost none of the game play belongs here. Consider a point fairly early on where Max is tasked with finding bottles in a junkyard so she and Chloe can use them for target practice, with a gun they...shouldnt have. Presented in novel form, the segment might go thusly:

    They scoured the filthy lot for bottles, Chloe giddy with rebellious anticipation and Max uncomfortable with even the presence of the gun, more less the idea of firing the weapon.

    "Found one," Chloe laughed and Max sighed, almost hoping they'd find nothing of the sort. And when they found their fifth and Chloe began to arrange their targets in a line both trembled with opposite emotions at the prospect of shattering their existence with thunderous violence.

    Here we establish and set characters, as well as build a relationship between the girls to which both characters actively contribute.

    But in the game:

    Max wanders aimlessly, looking for bottles in Hidden Object fashion while Chloe...sits on her duff, doing nothing. At one point Max will actually remark on this, but Chloe blows her off. Instinctively we know this is a "game play segment" and so of course we have to search alone. Unfortunately, in a game driven so much by story - and thus by interactions between characters - this segment makes Chloe come off as a lazy bully inherent on turning Max into her time-shifting minion. We know this isnt the case, and forced to try and invalidate or ignore the segment in terms of its contribution to the actual story, as we know Chloe's behavior is not canonical to the story but due to a limitation inherent in video game, and more strictly to game play.

    Read that again: We are forced to ignore this segment of the game play, in terms of its contribution to the story. In driven by and focused on its story.

    Here we are in the first four hours of the game and already, the game play and the story are utterly at odds with one another. And this keeps happening: Frank's keys and finding the breakfast ingredients in Chloe's house come to mind.

    Not only do these segments make other characters seem lazy and unhelpful for the sake of shoehorning in "game play" they also destroy any sense of logic and coherence in the game world and break the flow of the narrative.

    I took nearly half an hour to find five bottles in a tiny portion of a junk lot, and required an 'oh, that might be a place to look' monologue clue from Max to discover the last one. Not only did Chloe's Mom ask me to grab her milk and eggs in her own house, she then could not be bothered to tell me where she kept them, or that mysteriously her eggs were stored beside the front door because keeping them in refrigerator with the milk would have made finding them too easy from a game play perspective. Things like this happen continuously throughout the game and consistently ruin the logical coherence of the world while breaking the flow of the narrative.

    And yet none of it compares to the utter travesty of bad game play and borderline misery porn that is Chapter 5.

    With a game this good, the following is painful to right. But I am searching for an honest discussion here and so feel I should put this down along with the rest:

    Chapter 5 is awful. Watch-it-on-YouTube-instead-of-Playing-It bad, at least at times.

    Here we see the worst game play segments to date: The Endless Hallway, and the Gauntlet of Flashlights (Torches, for some, if I am not mistaken).

    Consider The Endless Hallway in book form:

    Door after door opened to reveal the same hall she'd left only a moment ago. Her own private hell of an academy dorm from which there seemed no escape and even as the walls closed about her and each door opened upon the same scene the last had revealed she felt inside that some escape, some secret route, existed that must lead her from the infernal maze.

    Or in movie form:

    Appropriate music plays as Max opens door after door upon the same perfectly normal hallway, the whispers of classmates soft in her ears. We are taken in by the spooky, hopeless atmosphere and admire her will to escape.

    But in game play form:

    We are simply pressing forward on the controller or holding down W. For interminable minutes. And seeing the same thing, over and over, for our troubles. What is spooky and chilling in book or movie form, is frustratingly repetitive in a game.

    This same problem exists for The Dark Room:

    About The Dark Room: We need to paint the antagonist, now they are revealed, as truly evil, in a relatively short time. Got it. And you still let it go on too long. Maybe by only a little bit, but you did. Furthermore, where Max often monologued her thoughts and feelings throughout, here she was oddly quiet, for the most part. She did pipe up, but not nearly enough. The result: Too much focus on what was happening on the screen (which was, again, nearly misery porn) and not enough focus on Max and how she felt about it.

    This problem of intended versus actual focus was exacerbated when we returned to the Dark Room during the "Lost in Time" segment. Here we see Max facing her fears. Fears that all of her decisions were the wrong ones. That everyone was really against her. She is adrift in Nightmare, but because she rarely monologues her feelings we are focused on the only thing we can focus on: What is happening on the screen, which really may cross a line at this point into misery porn.

    Consider again the presentation of this scene in novel/book form:

    They taunted her, these people who both were and were not her friends and classmates. Chloe dancing for [antagonist; i wont spoil this], her vitriol expressed with joyful effortlessness; Victoria, hands clasping at the woman who had loved Max only moments before; Warren, her Judas, forsaking now she sat bound for a best friend who had done likewise. They were Nightmare images, all those she loved turned against her, taunting and laughing at her misery, and she cried for them or for herself or for both. Cried until the tears burned eyes she was powerless to turn from their betrayals.

    But in the game we are not focused on Max's feelings about these events. We cannot be; they are barely shared with us. Instead, we see only the misery-porn betrayals, thrust on Max and on us, and this left me cold and...slightly disturbed.

    Time and again Life is Strange offers up one of the finest stories I have ever experienced in gaming. And time and again game play gets in the way, as it so often does in our medium.

    Of course, there are words to be said about the story itself, as a story and independent from game play. I will save those for a second post.
    Last edited by Blackcompany; 19-12-2015 at 04:20 AM.

  2. #2
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    About the Story:

    Its good. Really quite good. Compared to books or movies, it more than holds its own, and even has some quality and possibly even brilliant, moments. (No, I will not spoil them here).

    Compared to stories in video games, its Hugo and Nebula award type stuff.

    Not that the overarching premise is a new one: Fate is Inexorable. Inescapable. The "this person MUST die because time and the universe have decreed it, and any day they live beyond their intended due will be punished" is as old as Wells and the Time Machine that invented it at least. Nonetheless, that overarching premise - and I stress it is NOT the only overarching premise found herein - is given a fresh coat of paint that will doubtless appeal to people of many ages and especially to those younger folks who may be unlikely candidates for the works of Wells.

    Herein we find relatable characters with personalities, interests and agendas. Some of these are apparent; others are the byproducts of genuine character flaws that help to round out these characters. Herein too are lessons on the dangers of blind trust, naivete and the failure to recognize influences both good and bad in one's life. Lessons on friendship and loyalty. And lessons on sacrifice and selflessness. All of these things abound in Life is Strange.

    The story's presentation is solid. Characters are full of life. They are well written and well voiced, though David is a bit bland at times. The story rarely misses a beat, though it has one badly timed moment wherein it chooses to mock Rush Limbaugh (Truss Limbow) in a manner that is neither relevant to the story nor appropriate in the moment. And its made all the worse by a complete lack of Political Satire in the first 4.5 chapters, coming off as forced and very much out of place (and I am hardly a fan of Limbaugh, if you're wondering).

    As mentioned in my first post the biggest hurdle the story faces, is the game play. It breaks the flow and sometimes even the logical consistency of the world.

    But Life is Strange is a story worth experiencing. Its an effort to bring real stories to video games, with a gravity and weight that even Tale Tell games often do not strive for (which is not a knock on those games; not all stories NEED to be this weighty). The story is not afraid to stray into territory video games fail to tread. And though it does make mistakes they are extremely infrequent, and mostly easily forgivable. Unfortunately, a lot of those mistakes come very late in the telling and thus can detract from the overall satisfaction an ending would normally bring, coming as they do so close to that ending.

    But I would still recommend Life is Strange. It will make you chuckle. And laugh. And quite possibly cry.

    But mostly, it will make you THINK. Abstractly. Philosophically. Critically. And that is something we need more of in video games.

  3. #3
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    TL;DR :P

    But mostly because I fear that over-analyzing it could kill some of the magic, so I won't.
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  4. #4
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    Life is Strange is a game that sets out to prove that games can tell the sorts of powerful, character driven, emotionally charged stories most often found in novels and short stories, while also maintaining game play aspects unique to this medium.

    It fails.
    No, no, no, you're so wrong.

    Powerful - check.
    Character driven - check.
    Emotionally charged story - check.
    Does things unique to its medium - check.

    Sure, some gameplay elements are far from perfect and sometimes are frustrating, but they have one role: they make you (you playing Max, as she's a defined character with her own, well... character) interact with other people directly. Of course it's handled best in dialogues, not mini fetch quest but it's still something you will never see in cinema or books (well, maybe except of choose your adventure books).

    And some things like endless hallways can shine in game form. Experiencing beign lost is something more impactful than just reading about it. Of course it's very easy to ruin such ideas in games and it takes the skilled game designer to handle it properly.

  5. #5
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus somini's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by GameCat View Post
    No, no, no, you're so wrong.

    Powerful - check.
    Character driven - check.
    Emotionally charged story - check.
    Does things unique to its medium - check.

    Sure, some gameplay elements are far from perfect and sometimes are frustrating, but they have one role: they make you (you playing Max, as she's a defined character with her own, well... character) interact with other people directly. Of course it's handled best in dialogues, not mini fetch quest but it's still something you will never see in cinema or books (well, maybe except of choose your adventure books).

    And some things like endless hallways can shine in game form. Experiencing beign lost is something more impactful than just reading about it. Of course it's very easy to ruin such ideas in games and it takes the skilled game designer to handle it properly.
    Plus, that bottle segment is just "Explore Chloe's real home" and setting up that Rachel used to be in your place. It's also more characterization of Chloe as an impulsive needy person. You can see a shadow of that dove from the very beginning. There's much more going on than some MMO-like "Collect 5 bottles".
    Plus, the trains pass by every few minutes, it feels alive. Not to mention the importance to the story later on.
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  6. #6
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    Good points.

    About the Hallways: They went on too long. It was actually quite powerful at first. Opening that door and seeing the same Hallway again. Very Stephen King-esque. But like some other scenes it was allowed to go on long enough to lose its luster and its wonder. The existence of the Hallways - and the Dark Room scenes - wasnt the real problem. The real problem, was their length.

    About the Junkyard: I never even thought about exploring Chloe's real home and Rachel's former presence there. Wow, that...is an eye opening perspective. It is also a testament to the degree to which the mini fetch quest irritated me and overshadowed the rest of the experience.

    Dont get met wrong. I still quite like Life is Strange. I think its good for the medium, and a "hella good" story. I also think the story would have been even better, without many of the game play parts that slowed it down and overall detracted from the telling.

    Not that this means no one should play it. Far from it; anyone who appreciates character driven narrative should play it. And will likely not regret doing so. It remains a worthwhile experience, dont get me wrong. Like other entertainment media, its not without its flaws; its just that so many of the flaws that affect the story come from what the game is, and NOT the story itself.

  7. #7
    Lesser Hivemind Node Procrastination Giant's Avatar
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    First of all, the bottles: I have to agree with somini here since it really didn't feel like a silly and redundant fetch quest to me, and despite the fact that it was inherently game-y at its most basic level it actually felt quite organic since all the bottles were on the "path" through that area that i'd have taken anyway - I actually had 4 of the 5 bottles and knew where the last one was long before i felt like i was "finished" with that zone, so to me it didn't feel like the puzzle or the game itself got in the way.

    As for the aptly named final episode as a whole - I do understand some of your (and most of the general) complaints and definitely wouldn't say that it was perfect or even good from an objective perspective. But subjectively speaking i really rather liked the fifth episode, appreciate what the developers were trying to do and actually felt like it was important that some of the elements (Pushing past her confusion (the corridor), trying not to succumb to self-loathing (the stealth section) and so on) were a bit tedious and just about long enough to border on being overbearing and frustrating as an attempt to give max's mental state a certain tangibility but not long enough to really get in the way - Unless you WANT to... i found it brilliant that they added that meaningless little bottle-quest at the very end for example since that's just how an anxious, self-doubting brain works when forced to make a difficult decision - It gets caught in a meaningless, obsessive loop.

    So yeah, It might all be a bit simplistic to truely be profound, they might have overdone it a bit with the whole negative reinforcement aspect of it, but i think it was all really rather important to the story as a whole and would have to disagree that one would be better off just watching that episode on youtube instead.

    My only complaint about the game would be that it sometimes was a bit wobbly with its own internal logic, but i really can only think of one moment that truely made me roll my eyes rather violently: The confrontation with Frank, the one where you try to get his customer list (or something). I felt like the game kind of dropped the ball in a big way there and artificially created drama by suddenly using a completely different logic than the rest of the game and taking away a central element of the time rewind mechanic (the ability to rewind while retaining items) without giving any reason as to why it wasn't working in that particular case.
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    I disagree quite a bit with your thesis, but not because your points are wrong. Let me restate your thesis here:

    Life Is Strange FAILS to show that games can merge strong narrative with gameplay.

    I agree that the game was filled with annoying moments. The bottle scene didn't get to me, but there were other puzzles (the one outside the diner in the last chapter, for one) where I couldn't figure out what to do and it was very frustrating.

    But where the game shines, it shines very well. The key mechanic of the game (time rewinding) meshed very well with the dialog-tree structure, and it allowed for "failed" dialogues that didn't break the game. That change alone makes for a merging of gameplay and narrative that doesn't happen often.

    Plus, there were tense scenes that worked really well. Breaking into the principle's office, for one, felt rather natural. Or saving Chloe from the train, where I felt the time pressure just as much as Max did. Or hacking into David's computer, even though I had 10 or something clues and only 3 attempts. In all segments the idea of what to do next seemed to mesh well with the game.

    Plus, the game structure allows for little side-stories, such as the girl who is always getting hit in the face, that wouldn't have as much prominence for me if it weren't a game. And sudden changes in the rules (such as losing rewind powers at one point) wouldn't have the same impact, in my opinion.

    The parts where the game fell flat felt like your usual poorly designed, poorly tested adventure-game issues that every adventure game I've played runs into at some point, not a core issue that shows the core idea is faulty. And the unique mesh of mechanic and story allows for scenes that few other games can do as well.

  9. #9
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus somini's Avatar
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    I think the hallways scene could be greatly improved by making Max getting further stressed out in each iteration. If I learned anything from horror films, a mere breathing sound would be enough to turn it into a very stressful situation, not just psychological horror and giant squirrels.

    Quote Originally Posted by Blackcompany View Post
    About the Junkyard: I never even thought about exploring Chloe's real home and Rachel's former presence there. Wow, that...is an eye opening perspective. It is also a testament to the degree to which the mini fetch quest irritated me and overshadowed the rest of the experience.
    Plus, it happens right after Episode 2 ending. Similar themes of friends suddenly (and permanently ;( ) being apart from each other.
    I also felt it was game-y, but it's just an excuse to make you explore an interesting place. The nod in Episode 5 shows that the devs were listening to feedback...

    I think being a game made of reveals, LiS is specially sensitive to spoilers. Even general stuff. If you read a Episode 3 review that complains about fetch quests, you get to that part and get jerked out the experience. With episodic games it's even harder to keep yourself out of the loop. It's a hard game to recommend, "'cause I say so" doesn't win over many people. It still was successful, and that makes me really happy. More of this sort of thing!
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  10. #10
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Kadayi's Avatar
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    It fails because of the bottle quest? That's strange criteria to assess a game against tbh. Hell the devs even send up that section later on as an acknowledgement that it was kind of dumb at the time (I also believe thay patched that part as well to make it less tedious).

    I thought it was great. I really like the plot and albeit I wasn't overly enamoured with Chloe (too much riot grrl for my tastes) I thought overall it was well done and if not for the TW3 would probably be my GoTY tbh. Certainly I think it could be improved in certain areas, but then again that's pretty much true of most games in my experience.
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  11. #11
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    No one mentioned that LIS have one of the best art direction since Dishonoured.

    http://deadendthrills.com/gallery/?gid=130

  12. #12
    Apologies but I'm posting this without having read anything, I played literally just the first minute of the demo and could not reliably interact with things, I was only checking it was running okay, the ambient acting seems of an excellent standard.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Heliocentric View Post
    Apologies but I'm posting this without having read anything, I played literally just the first minute of the demo and could not reliably interact with things, I was only checking it was running okay, the ambient acting seems of an excellent standard.
    Counter-intuitive Pro-Tip: Play it with a controller. KB&M controls are just... off.
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  14. #14
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus somini's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by Procrastination Giant View Post
    Counter-intuitive Pro-Tip: Play it with a controller. KB&M controls are just... off.
    Yes, took a little of practice. You must keep the mouse pressed and drag it to one of the four directions. On the controller it's just the four face buttons to make choices.
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    Quote Originally Posted by Wenz View Post
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    Quote Originally Posted by Kadayi View Post
    It fails because of the bottle quest? That's strange criteria to assess a game against tbh. Hell the devs even send up that section later on as an acknowledgement that it was kind of dumb at the time (I also believe thay patched that part as well to make it less tedious).

    I thought it was great. I really like the plot and albeit I wasn't overly enamoured with Chloe (too much riot grrl for my tastes) I thought overall it was well done and if not for the TW3 would probably be my GoTY tbh. Certainly I think it could be improved in certain areas, but then again that's pretty much true of most games in my experience.
    And that is just it: I would still vote for it for GoTY. Easily. If not for Witcher 3, it would be a hands down, no contest vote. And I have played/am playing both Just Cause 3 and Fallout 4 while saying this.

    Even where Life is Strange does fall down, the falls are neither far enough nor long enough to make this a bad game. Or even to make it merely a good one. The few parts of the game that felt overly "gamey" were still few enough and far enough between that, even thought I felt them to be somewhat out of place, the game remains one of my personal favorites of all time.

    Do I think this story could have been told better in a novel or book? Absolutely, I do. I think the breaks in the flow slowed down the pacing just enough at some points that it just barely began to detract from the experience overall. And right about the time that happened it picked it back up once more, having not really lost a beat. So while I think the story could have been told more slickly in a novel, I remain happy that the story was instead told in this manner, because as others have stated it allowed for interactions books and movies cannot offer, and I am grateful to have experienced them despite minor frustrations.

    Quote Originally Posted by GameCat View Post
    No one mentioned that LIS have one of the best art direction since Dishonoured.

    http://deadendthrills.com/gallery/?gid=130
    Absolutely agree. In fact the game reminded me of Dishonored early on. And then again during the Gauntlet of Flashlights and the storm sequences. I miss Dishonored.

    Quote Originally Posted by Heliocentric View Post
    Apologies but I'm posting this without having read anything, I played literally just the first minute of the demo and could not reliably interact with things, I was only checking it was running okay, the ambient acting seems of an excellent standard.
    The voice acting is generally very good indeed. Enjoy.

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    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Wenz's Avatar
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    Necropolopost, anyone went back to the game to test choices never made?

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    I'm planning to do that, but only when I get new gaming rig. The time travel theme really encourages to do that. I wouldn't touch again any of Telltale's games though, it would be against my canon. I think all these games should have "replay mode" where you load your save to start again and all your choices are highlighted.

  18. #18
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Wenz's Avatar
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    Yeah like somini mentioned about the bottle stuff pretty much everything you do shows a Max reaction, you want to time travel back to see how she reacts even to minor things such as sitting to trigger interior thoughts.
    Adds up to the final choice if you think of max as needy as price behind it all methinks
    Last edited by Wenz; 02-02-2016 at 11:30 AM.

  19. #19
    Secondary Hivemind Nexus Wenz's Avatar
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    Couldn't bring myself to choose a different ending though:(

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    Which one?

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