That was what Square-Enix’s Adam Phillips had to say about the luxury of choice in their current series Life is Strange. And that statement is 100% correct. I’m in my second playthrough now of episode 1, Chrysalis and am not having any less fun trying different choices I take with Max in her exploration of her newly found powers over time. The beauty of it is that there’s no correct answers in the game, and even though the short term results of the decisions made are simple enough to see, the long term and meta effects aren’t so easy to spot.
Just like life. Strange… right?
I was able to sit down with Square-Enix and DONTNOD Entertainment at PAX East last week to get a preview of Life is Strange episode 2, Out of Time to see some spoiler-free gameplay. We were able to see some of the longer-than-short-term consequences of one of the pivotal decisions from Chrysalis – whether or not to take the blame for Chloe’s stepfather finding her smoking weed, resulting in being in hot water yourself or Chloe taking an angry backhand.
The game picks up on the day after Max finds discovers her gift (1 episode, 1 day) and the scene we got to play through was Max meeting Joyce, Chloe’s mother, at the diner where she has been working for years. You have the choice of telling Joyce or not that Chloe’s stepfather struck her, but not every playthrough has that option. We were playing episode 2 using the input from episode 1 that Chloe hid in the closet and watched Chloe get struck, and that’s why this and other choices are available to us now. The game keeps track of every decision you’ve made, and offers shifts in the storyline accordingly, guaranteeing a number of playthroughs which are all different. “It really is a network,” was how the choice system in the game was explained to us. “There are in this game some binary switches, like if you do this that happens, but in this game there are actually combination switches as well.” This won’t affect the overall story of the game but it will affect the way the game progresses. “More like branches they’re vines going up a tree, so they all go in the same direction, each one is just slightly different.”
To get used to the “keep your knowledge and stuff” part of the time rewind mechanic, you’re forced to guess everything that happens within 10 seconds at the diner and everything that’s in Chloe’s pockets. Of course you’re not a mind reader so the only option is to guess wrong, see the real answer, rewind and prove the Chloe your “superpowers” are real. It works as this game’s take on quick time button events, where you have to get the whole sequence right or rewind time and start over.
I’m really looking forward to see how my different savegames affect my playthrough for episode 2, and the way this is set up we’ll be getting increasing levels of meta consequences for seemingly small choices we made earlier on.
The soundtrack which thoroughly impressed me in Chrysalis maintains its deliciously modern indie feel, with artists like José Gonzaléz, Syd Matters and alt-J on the score for both background music and the tracks Max listens to. “It was really important when Max put her earbuds in that you heard the sound dull down as she pressed play. What happens when you hear a licensed track? It grounds you in reality.” It’s true, and goes a long way in helping continue to set the tone and emotion of Max and Chloe’s adventures in Arcadia Bay.
I asked creators Raoul Barbet and Michel Koch from DONTNOD about why episodic games are finding so much success next to huge triple-A 80-90 hour behemoths. “It’s the way we’re playing games nowadays. We have less time I think, and a short experience is something you can really enjoy between two stations of one really huge game. Sometimes those short experiences of an episode of a game or a short game like Journey can be interesting to play because you can play it in one session.”
Of course they mentioned that also inherent in episodic games is the anticipation and expectation for the next one to come out to see what happens. And that part is working.
Thankfully we don’t have too much longer to wait. Life is Strange episode 2, Out of Time will be released this month on March 24th, and I’ve got my season pass ready to pull it down and see what happens to Max and Chloe next.
[oh, and P.S., I asked about porting this to tablets because I think it would work great with the UI and control scheme – and I can officially say it hasn’t been ruled out]