App Reviewed on: iPad Air 2
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Have you ever felt like you could go back in time to change how you did things and see what things would be like? This question is the centerpiece of Life is Strange, an adventure game where you play as a girl who can literally rewind time and get a “do over” at things she’s done before. It may not be an experience with the most original plot, and it has quite a few technical hiccups, but the game succeeds largely because of its ambition and heart.
Back in the day
Life is Strange puts you in control of Max, a high school senior who attends the prestigious Blackwell Academy in Arcadia Bay, Oregon. Instead of living out a typical teenage adventure though, things start out… well… a bit strange. The game opens with a strange daydream that somehow then bestows a super power unto Max. At will, she can rewind time, and the story of Life is Strange centers around Max learning to use this power while still contending with her everyday life.
As the one in control of Max, you’ll spend a lot of your time in Life is Strange interacting with everyone in her social circle and exploring how to use this power to solve puzzles and change the trajectory of the game’s story. While the game throws in a ton of little character moments and smaller narrative arcs, the main thrust of Life is Strange revolves around a few mysterious happenings that somehow seem connected, both to Max and her powers, over the course of a few days.
As a game that essentially plays like a teen drama about time travel, there are a lot of plot moments in Life is Strange that are pretty predictable. You have to decide between which friends to hang out with, whether or not you should lie to grown ups, and if you should confront bullies or let things play out. In most of these situations, you can just rewind and change your answers until you settle on one that you like, though the long-term ramifications of those decisions aren't always entirely clear in the moment.
What makes Life is Strange’s story special though is how it weaves its time-rewinding through the narrative that you ultimately choose for yourself. The game obviously hinges on some big, key decisions, but the game is also peppered with tiny interactions that you can change and play with as well. In this way, Life is Strange isn’t like a lot of other adventure games. There’s an open-endedness to certain portions of it, and these sections really allow you to learn more about the people in Max’s life as well as what life in Arcadia Bay is like. When push comes to shove, Life is Strange definitely puts you back on a linear path, and in these moments the game occasionally limits your usage of the time-rewind powers in ways that are both clever and narratively impactful.
Some wrinkles in time
Life is Strange is an episodic game, and the first three (of five) episodes are currently available on mobile. By the end of the third episode, the story leaves off on a huge cliffhanger, but it’s one you may or may not be interested in seeing through depending on your tolerance for technical issues in games.
In making the jump to mobile devices, Life is Strange has framerate issues, occasional audio bugs, and even some control problems. There’s nothing in my playthrough that made the game crash out to the home screen or otherwise prevent my progress, but there were times where I was pretty frustrated by the game’s presentation. That said, I found myself wanting to push through these issues because I really want to see where Life is Strange goes. As much as the game is a bit of a mess, I find myself caring about Max, her friends, and where this story goes.
The bottom line
Even with a bunch of rough edges, Life is Strange manages to be super compelling. Although its primary plot points are typical teenage drama fare, there are great characters, quiet moments, and loads of little mechanical tricks to its gameplay that make it hard to put down.