Life is Strange or A Strange Game of the Year?

Careful, spoilers – including ending spoilers – below!
(Unless you can rewind time to make things unseen in which case feel free to go ahead.)

So, that was it. That was the long-awaited Episode 5 of Life is Strange, Dontnod’s masterpiece out of nowhere. But could the finale meet or even exceed the expectations?

First of all, it’s a roller-coaster ride. In these two to three hours, poor Max relives a lot of things, and emotionally, there are defeats, triumphs and despair. Things get even crazier than before, and not only story-wise. In terms of gameplay, the closing stages of Life is Strange surprise with a repeating corridor we know from PT (R.I.P., old friend), a bit of avoiding enemies’ cones like in theold-fashioned Metal Gear Solid games, of course including cheating via means of time, and finally, a collage of scenes reminiscent of Bioshock Infinite.

Besides a few new gameplay mechanics (if you want to even call it that way), the last episode of Life is Strange involves what we all have come to love: Long dialogues, quiet moments where we can take our time, sometimes just watching Max sitting down and reminiscing, and of course, the puzzles, even though the last episode feels a bit light of puzzles. And Life is Strange also plays even more with different realities, multiverses and the concept of the butterfly effect. These three hours are quality gaming time and will leave you exhausted but not entirely satisfied.

The only thing souring the bittersweet finale is the fact that Life is Strange ends the way most of us predicted – saving Chloe or saving Arcadia Bay. Even worse, whatever you choose, both endings negate pretty much the entire previous game – at least at first sight, from a gameplay perspective. If you take a philosophical look at it though, the ending shows us a mirror – did we spend all this time helping everyone to just say “fuck this town” and save Chloe? Or, if we centred the game around Chloe, do we sacrifice her for people we didn’t care about? The one or the many? Yes, the ending is disappointing at first, but it makes sense from a meta perspective – a bit strange for a game indeed, but a nice experiment.

And finally, who’s to say saving Chloe now will return reality back to normal forever? What if reality keeps claiming Chloe’s life? Or is the storm caused by Max using her powers? So what if she ever uses them again? The big question aside, there are a few more open questions depending on the final decision, but surely, the finale of Life is Strange is more complete and fulfilling than the road kill Lost presented.

So where does this leave us? It is clear the episodic format suited Life is Strange – it gave us room for thought, time for theories, and the expectations were rising and rising. In terms of gameplay, the use of time was refreshing, the mix between the coming of age tale and the mystery surrounding Arcadia Bay managed to be pretty much perfect, and also the mix of dialogues and puzzles was never boring – one tiny critique could be the puzzles felt too easy at times, especially in the beginning. And at the end of the day, Life is Strange actually met the expectations by giving us some closure in an – admittedly – rather expected way. But the way there has been a great ride!

Rarely has Rabidgames been that emotionally invested in a game, and even more importantly, rarely has a game not just allowed, but rather asked us to just sit back and relax – sometimes even directly. Life is Strange has always tried to challenge our understanding of games … if you wanted, you could rewind time times and times again so you could see all different outcomes or just dialogue options before you continue. If you wanted, you could just sit there, listen to the great soundtrack and philosophise about the very same questions Max was pondering over. And if you take this into account, the ending also makes sense.

And besides philosophy, meta levels and new ways of understanding gaming, Life is Strange has been fun. Great fun! And to be honest, it has been a more than welcome diversion from all the other games out there that always follow the same pattern. And mostly for this reason, Life is Strange is a Game of the Year contender in Rabidgames’ book. Finally, we have a game that brings some true innovation beyond graphics, frame rates or size. A game that challenges us not just go forward, but to go back in time – or just do nothing, just to sit there. And when have we done this the last time before – be it in a game or be it in our lives?

Rabidgames says farewell to Arcadia Bay: Yes, Life is Strange is an entirely different kind of game. As opposed to life in that small Oregon town, it might not be the end of the world as we know it, but it surely enriches the gaming world with a new perspective of time. And be it Game of the Year or not, it certainly was time well spent. Surely, life can be strange …

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