The plot focuses on Max Caulfield, an 18-year-old photography student who discovers that she has the ability to rewind time at any moment, leading her every choice to enact the butterfly effect. The player's actions will adjust the narrative as it unfolds, and reshape it once allowed to travel back in time. Fetch quests and making environmental changes represent the forms of puzzle solving in addition to using branching choices for conversation.
Development of Life Is Strange began in April 2013. It was formed with an episodic format in mind, for reasons both financial and creative. The developers conducted field research on the setting by traveling to the Pacific Northwest, and subverted known archetypes to make the characters. Player feedback influenced the adjustments made to the episodes. Story and character arc serve as the central point in the game.
During its release, Life Is Strange received generally favorable reviews commending the character development, rewind game mechanic, and tackling of taboo subjects. Common criticisms included the slang that was used, poor lip-syncing, and tonal inconsistencies in the story. The game received over 75 Game of the Year awards and listings. It has sold over three million copies as of May 2017. A prequel, Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, was released in August 2017, and a sequel, Life Is Strange 2, in September 2018. A remastered version of the game will release as part of the Life Is Strange: Remastered Collection in 2022. An additional installment to the series, Life Is Strange: True Colors, was released in September 2021.
Players are able to rewind an event within a certain window of time.
Life Is Strange is a graphic adventure played from a third-person view. The mechanic of rewinding time allows the player to redo almost any action that has been taken. The player can examine and interact with objects, which enables puzzle solving in the form of fetch quests and making changes to the environment. Items that are collected before time travelling will be kept in the inventory after the fact.
The player can explore various locations in the fictional setting of Arcadia Bay and communicate with non-playable characters. Dialogue exchanges can be rewound while branching options are used for conversation. Once an event is reset, the details provided earlier are permitted to avail themselves in the future. In some instances, choices in dialogue will alter and affect the story through short or long-term consequences. For each one of the choices, something good in the short term could turn out worse later.
Life Is Strange is set in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, in October 2013 and is told from the perspective of Maxine "Max" Caulfield (Hannah Telle), a twelfth-grade student attending Blackwell Academy. During photography class with her teacher Mark Jefferson (Derek Phillips), Max experiences a vision of a lighthouse being destroyed by a swelling tornado. Leaving for the restroom to regain her composure, she witnesses classmate Nathan Prescott (Nik Shriner) kill a girl in a fit of rage. In a single, sudden effort, she develops the ability to rewind time and rescues the girl, revealed to be her childhood friend Chloe Price (Ashly Burch). The two reunite and go for a walk at the lighthouse, where Max reveals to Chloe her capacity to travel back in time. It is established that the vision is rather the reckoning of a future event: a storm approaching the town. The next day, Max observes fellow student Kate Marsh (Dayeanne Hutton) being bullied for a viral video depicting her kissing several students at a party.
When Max meets Chloe at the diner where her mother Joyce (Cissy Jones) works, they decide to experiment with Max's power at Chloe's secret scrapyard hideout. However, strain causes Max to have a nosebleed and faint. Chloe takes her back to Blackwell, but class is halted when everyone is called out to the courtyard. Kate commits suicide by jumping off the roof of the girls' dorm. Max manages to rewind and time stops unexpectedly as she reaches Kate, giving Max the opportunity to convince her to come down. Max ultimately resolves to uncover what happened to Kate and Chloe's missing friend Rachel Amber. Max and Chloe break into the principal's office that night to investigate and enter the pool for a swim before evading the school's security guards which may, depending on player choices, include Chloe's stepfather, David Madsen (Don McManus), who is head of security at Blackwell. The pair flee back to Chloe's place. Later that morning they sneak into the motorhome of Frank Bowers (Daniel Bonjour), drug dealer and friend of Rachel, and learn that Rachel was in a relationship with Frank and lied to Chloe about it, causing Chloe to storm off feeling betrayed. Max returns to her dormitory and examines a childhood photo of her and Chloe, but is suddenly transported to the day the picture was taken. Max prevents Chloe's father William (Joe Ochman) from dying in a traffic collision, which inadvertently creates an alternative reality where William is alive but Chloe has been paralysed from the neck down as a result of a collision in her own car.
Max uses the photo to undo her decision and return to the present day, restoring Chloe's health. Continuing their investigation, Max and Chloe obtain clues leading them to an abandoned barn owned by the influential Prescott family. They discover a hidden bunker containing pictures of Kate and Rachel tied up and intoxicated, with Rachel being buried at Chloe's secret hideout. They hurry back to the scrapyard and find Rachel's grave, much to Chloe's despair. Max follows Chloe at the school party to confront Nathan, believing he will target fellow student Victoria Chase (Dani Knights). They receive a text from Nathan threatening to destroy the evidence, returning them to the scrapyard. All of a sudden, the two are ambushed by Jefferson, who anaesthetises Max and then kills Chloe with a gunshot to the head. Max is kidnapped and held captive in the "Dark Room", a place where Jefferson has been drugging and photographing young girls to capture their innocence. Jefferson also reveals that he took Nathan on as a personal student, but killed him before abducting Max due to him giving Rachel an overdose when he tried to mimic Jefferson's work, and intends to do the same to Max after he has the photos he wants. Max escapes into a photograph and emerges back at the beginning in Jefferson's class. She alerts David, getting Jefferson (and Nathan) arrested.
Max is given the opportunity to go to San Francisco and have one of her photos displayed in an art gallery. She calls Chloe from the event, realising that, for all her effort, the storm has reached Arcadia Bay. Max travels back to the time at which she took the gallery photo, which eventually leads her to sojourn alternative realities as they devolve into a dreamscape nightmare. Max and Chloe finally return to the lighthouse and confront the possibility that Max brought the storm into existence by saving Chloe from being shot by Nathan earlier in the week. Max must make a choice: sacrifice Chloe's life to save Arcadia Bay, or sacrifice Arcadia Bay to spare Chloe.
If Max rewinds time to undo Chloe's survival, she reluctantly allows Nathan to shoot Chloe, leading to his and Jefferson's arrest. Chloe's death is mourned, and the storm never appears.
If Max maintains the timeline to stay with Chloe, the storm finally ceases. The pair then depart from the now devastated Arcadia Bay.
Barbet and Koch describe the game and discuss the role of protagonist Max Caulfield.
Life Is Strange was Dontnod Entertainment's second title with a female protagonist. Dontnod published a developer diary that said most prospective publishers were unwilling to publish a game unless it had a male protagonist. Most publishers had the same objection to Dontnod's first project, Remember Me. Dontnod CEO Oskar Guilbert also challenged the idea at the start.Square Enix was the only publisher with no intention to change this.
Development of Life Is Strange began in April 2013 with a team of 15, and more people were added when the collaboration with Square Enix began. Dontnod co-founder Jean-Maxime Moris was originally the game's Creative Director. Dontnod told them about Life Is Strange only after they had turned down a pitch for a larger game. Before signing with Square Enix, Life Is Strange was imagined as a full-length video game that Dontnod would self-publish. However, the publisher surmised that it would be more successful as an episodic title. The game was originally codenamed What If but then retitled to distinguish itself from the film of the same name.
Life Is Strange was born from the rewind mechanic idea, which the developer had already experimented on with their last game Remember Me. The lead character Max was created with the ability to rewind time to supplement this mechanism. The episodic format was decided upon by the studio for creative reasons, financial restrictions and marketing purposes, allowing them to tell the story in its preferred slow pace. The Pacific Northwest was picked as the setting for the purpose of conveying a nostalgic and autumnal feel. The development team visited the region, took photographs, looked at local newspapers and used Google Street View to make sure the environment was accurately portrayed. It was decided early on that most of the budget be spent on the writing and voice actors. The original story was written in French by Jean-Luc Cano, and converted into a game script by the co-directors and design team. It was subsequently handed over to Christian Divine and Cano to be fine tuned in English. Story and character development were highlighted over point-and-click puzzles, making choice and consequence integral to how the narrative unfolds. Hannah Telle auditioned for Max Caulfield in July 2014 and was offered the part; Ashly Burch auditioned for both Max and her given role Chloe Price. The recording sessions were done in Los Angeles, California, with the French developer brought in via Skype.
Square Enix and Dontnod announced Life Is Strange on 11 August 2014. The episodes were released digitally on PC via Steam, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 via PlayStation Network, and Xbox 360 and Xbox One via Xbox Live between 30 January 2015 and 20 October 2015. In November 2014, the publisher said they were interested in releasing physical copies of the game, but said that at that time they were "100 per cent focused on the digital release". One year later, the retail edition was set to be released for the PC, PS4 and Xbox One in North America on 19 January 2016 and in Europe on 22 January 2016; the limited edition had an artbook, the soundtrack, score, and a director's commentary. A Japanese dubbed version was released for Microsoft Windows, PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 on 3 March 2016.Feral Interactive ported Life Is Strange for OS X, released on 16 June 2016, and Linux, released on 21 July 2016. That same day, the first episode was made indefinitely available for free on Linux, Windows, OS X, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One.Life Is Strange was included on PlayStation Plus (for America and PAL regions) the month of June 2017. It was released for iOS between 14 December 2017 and 29 March 2018, and launched on Android on 18 July 2018, both ported by Black Wing Foundation.
Life Is Strange received generally favorable reviews, with a Metacritic score of 85/100 on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. While some reviewers criticised the games's lip-syncing and use of dated slang, they lauded the character development and time travel component, suggesting that there should be more games like it.Eurogamer said it was "one of the best interactive story games of this generation" and Hardcore Gamer said it was the sleeper hit of 2015.Life Is Strange received over 75 Game of the Year awards and listings. In April 2017, Xbox One UK ranked it first in its list of Xbox One games priced under GB£20. Game director Yoko Taro listed it as one of his favourite PlayStation 4 games.
The developers accept the audience award at the 2016 GDC Awards.
Kevin VanOrd of GameSpot said Episode 1: Chrysalis[b] is "an involving slice of life that works because its situations eloquently capture a peculiar early-college state of mind", while Game Informer's Kimberley Wallace said the game's tackling of "subjects that are usually taboo for video games" was impressive.Destructoid's Brett Makedonski said the episode's strongest characteristic was exploration—both "self- and worldly". Mitch Dyer of IGN said the story was ultimately obstructed by its "laughable" script and "worse performances". In response to Episode 2: Out of Time, Polygon's Megan Farokhmanesh also said that the emphasis on self-exploration had considerable impact on the enjoyment of the game. Other critics said the ending was an "emotional high point" and that it brought meaning to the choices from both the first and second episodes. Mike Williams said in USgamer that the pacing of Episode 2: Out of Time was "slower and less exciting" than that of episode one.PopMatters' Eric Swain described the episode as generally sincere but containing moments that strained credibility.
Adnan Riaz of Hardcore Gamer said Episode 3: Chaos Theory was a dramatic improvement that presented a "thrilling, poignant, fascinating and ... enticing" narrative whose outcome from past decisions also added a sense of realism. Peter Paras of Game Revolution complimented the character beats, particularly the development of Chloe Price, who he said "really comes into her own as [a] fully-formed character". Though GameSpot's Alexa Ray Corriea said that the fetch quests interfered with its emotional quality, the episode built up to a "killer cliffhanger" according to Farokhmanesh.GameZone's Matt Liebl said Episode 4: Dark Room was "easily the most emotional episode" and that the mystery of Rachel Amber had done a "tremendous job in keeping us hooked". Tom Hoggins of The Telegraph said the developer's venture into subjects like social division, online bullying, parental conflict and suicide as "bold". Critics said there were tonal problems, caused by the game's "cheap ways" of progressing the plot, such as character inconsistency and superfluous shock value. Critics were more favourable towards the episode's puzzles and relationships. They said the final episode, Polarized, had a "fitting conclusion" to the coming of age story of Max Caulfield and the relationship between the two leads was carried out successfully. One stealth sequence was described as "tedious" and "out-of-place" while other aspects inhabiting the same course of events were favoured. Reviewers were divided on the ending.
The first episode was ranked fifth among the best selling PlayStation 3 and PlayStation 4 video games of February 2015.Life Is Strange reached one million sales in July 2015, having accumulated over 1.2 million unique players worldwide; the attach rate to units between the complete season and season pass proved to be "extremely strong", divulged Square Enix. The retail edition made seventh place in the top ten UK game sales chart for the week ending 23 January 2016.Life Is Strange was one of the top 100 best-selling games on Steam in 2016. As of May 2017, more than three million copies have been sold.
After Life Is Strange achieved financial and commercial success, Dontnod Entertainment started to become more prominent in the video game industry; publishers pursued the studio for the first time, whereas they previously had to pursue publishers themselves. CEO Oskar Guilbert said that the game saved his company financially after the mediocre sales of Remember Me. The Washington Post noted it as passing the Steven Spielberg test for video game as an art form in their review. Fans speculated and made theories about the plot, as well as predicting part of a possible ending.
In 2016, Square Enix sponsored its own "Everyday Heroes" photography contest, inspired by the game, offering a US$10,000 scholarship for the winning entry. Square Enix also coordinated with Parent Advocacy Coalition for Educational Rights (PACER) to support an anti-bullying initiative based on themes within the game and donated a total amount of $25,000.
A comic book series of the same name, set after the "Sacrifice Arcadia Bay" ending of the game, was released by Titan Comics beginning November 2018. The comic is written by Emma Vieceli, with interior and cover art by Claudia Leonardi and colours by Andrea Izzo. Square Enix also partnered with Titan Comics to produce Life Is Strange: Welcome to Blackwell Academy, a tie-in book about Blackwell Academy and the town of Arcadia Bay, written by Matt Forbeck.
Remastered versions of Life Is Strange and Before the Storm were announced on 18 March 2021, as part of Life Is Strange: Remastered Collection. The remaster includes previously released content with updated visuals and gameplay puzzles, improved character animation, engine and lighting upgrades, and full facial motion capture. It is scheduled to release on September 30, 2021, on PlayStation 4, Xbox One, Microsoft Windows, Google Stadia and at a later date on Nintendo Switch.
^Dontnod started working on the game before Gone Home was released.