One of my favorite games of 2015 has been Life is Strange, an episodic adventure/RPG developed by Paris-based Dontnod Entertainment (produced by Square Enix). Not exactly a well known developer, their last game was Remember Me (2013), a sci-fi time-bending action/adventure game which while interesting in premise, had me bored within hours by the repetitive action / timing based puzzle gameplay. Poorly sales pushed the company to near bankruptcy and required a critical pivot to survive. Dashing away rumors of collapse, they chose to be smart and bold, streamlining the team and moving to an episodic developer model.
Knowing that this could be their last attempt as a company they began the amusingly code-named “What If?” project. That became the game that is Life is Strange, a game that evolved the time-bending concepts introduced in Remember Me and builds around it a compelling character narrative and mystery thriller. It was beautifully executed too, a focused more refined vision well within what the reduced team could produce excellently. I had started with Episode 1 released in January and had been playing it on the Xbox 360 version through Episode 4. Even there, despite it being 10 year old hardware, it was still a visually stunning experience.
Seeing that it was 50% off on Steam over the Thanksgiving holidays, I decided to start and finish a new PC play through. Of course, I was also was hoping for a substantial boost in graphics fidelity on the PC edition.
I was not disappointed.
Among the most visually appealing games of 2015
I managed to play on high settings at PC 4k (3840×2160@60fps) (screenshots below) and while the game may not be as technically stunning as GTA 5 or The Witcher III in view distances or triangle counts, Life is Strange still manages to provide a better cinematic experience and is easily among the most visually memorable games of 2015.
More than performance captured faces and ultra high triangle counts are at work here; in word word, I’d sum it up as the ambiance of the setting and story that they’ve captured in the medium. And it’s not just the graphics, the audio editing is excellent as well. There were several times while playing that I took off my headphones and was surprised to find myself in silence. Whether it’s the slight breeze, or chirping birds or soft diner, the scenes were well fleshed out and felt more real than my artificial indoor confines.
Most meaningful game I’ve played since Mass Effect 3
Adventure RPG has becomemy favorite genre and while I love the freedom that comes with a Fallout 4 or GTA 5 (playing both now actually), a clearly told tale with truly likable characters and a solid plot is such a rare gem that I can count them on one hand; such represent the hallmark of why I love the medium. As for Life is Strange, I’ll go far as to say that this was the most meaningful game I’ve played since Mass Effect 3. The story is fascinating, the setting beautiful, characters that are truly likable and entertaining, and as a sucker for nostalgia, I felt that they effectively brought back a mix of old and new; having been set in 2011 and in a high school theme.
The game also has a strong sense of present day reality, a unique trait among games these days where fantasy and science fiction seem to dominate. Even most present day games tend to avoid mention to real-life entities, so the game is unique in that it works hard and succeeds at feeling like it’s not just a believable setting, but one in the real-world.
“Maybe I can sneak in here to watch Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within. I don’t care what anybody says, that’s one of the best sci-fi films ever made!” – Max
Social media, smartphones, the modern-hipster vibe of the PNW, references to the ongoing drought are all (not-so) subtle reminders that this game takes place not in some far off place, but in our world, and there it succeeds in providing an immersive experience and a compelling setting for the story as it unfolds.
(I won’t go into the story here; plenty of spoilers elsewhere.)
Speaking of which, I’ve only finished PC Episode 1 so far, so back to the game! 🙂
UPDATE (1/12/2016): I recently obtained an Nvidia GTX 970 and decided to finally finish the game in 4k (3840×2160) resolution. I had been playing in 2550×1440 before so I wasn’t expecting a major boost but 4k is double the amount of detail and wow, it is stunning! The below isn’t really appreciable unless viewed at 4k but they make great wallpapers at any scale!