OXENFREE – Delightfully Scary, Clever and Unforgettable

image credit gameinformer
image credit gameinformer

Five teenagers set out to explore a spooky island’s mystery, what could possibly go wrong? Night School Studio’s charming high school horror adventure “OXENFREE” turns out to be more than just a little scary and a whole lot of fun. It’s also one you won’t soon get out of your head. You’ve been warned.

With a running length of “just right” for a not-too-short side-scrolling puzzle adventure, you’ll be tempted to stay up late to finish it in a single sitting… in the dark. In addition to the rich watercolor environments and adorably tiny protagonists, brilliant writing and exceptional voice acting bring this breakout title to life. The believable and complex inter-character dialog is faster paced than some other story-driven tales. It’s no-pausing pace demands quick thinking and reaction from the player to choose how the heroine Alex might respond, or not respond, to a situation. Her choices drive much of how the story unfolds – one that you’ll be left thinking about long after the credits roll.

Blink at your own risk, this clever puzzle has numerous possible endings and a trove of well-guarded secrets. Nearly all of the game’s achievements are at least moderately hard to obtain, to the delight and horror of the completionists among us. The level of detail and thought put into OXENFREE is amazing, cementing its place as one of the best this year.

The Division – Speculation and Hope for Ubisoft’s Openworld Shooter RPG

TCTD_E314_screenshot_division-agents_1024x768
image credit: ubisoft

In the aftermath of a present day bioweapon catastrophe, survivors must band together to take back New York and restore hope. On the surface, Ubisoft’s Tom Clancy inspired “The Division” has Game of the Year written all over it. However what we actually know about the game is limited to only a few short gameplay demonstrations from E3 two years running, and the coolest parts of the demos are the parts of the game that are only hinted at but not fully shown. Elsewhere a leaked trailer explores some of these aspects in better detail, adding credibility to this possibly being a huge success. What worries me more is trying to ascertain why Ubisoft would play their cards so close to their chests when they are usually quite liberal with game hype ahead of a release. With just two weeks or so before the closed beta, let’s take a closer look at why this game is exciting and what they might not be telling us.

Update: A flood of amazing footage hit YouTube this morning from a few lucky individuals who were invited to Sweden to try it hands on, and it looks absolutely incredible. Here is a link to one of the best yet at Arekkz Gaming.

A Good Start

The foundation of the gameplay we have seen is a tactical multiplayer rpg focused on exploration, survival and challenging combat encounters. Every detail in the trailer and demo begins and ends with cooperation – hope against the insurmountable began with an outstretched hand. This poetry in motion is the backdrop for the excellent gameplay demonstrations from E3 – probably the best material they have released to date. Three players teamed up to move through the ruins of downtown New York to an objective, using a variety of skills to balance three team roles familiar to other successful RPGs – healing, direct damage, damage and threat mitigation. In dangerous areas tackling a group a foes near or above your character levels required communication and teamwork, and the pace of battle was intense.

One of the most interesting aspects of the demo is the late game PvP twist. The team ventures into the Dark Zone, a PvP enabled challenge area where the loot and stakes are raised substantially. What begins as a multi-team cooperative challenge against a much more powerful AI opponent suddenly turns into a brutal team vs team PvP struggle for the sum of the loot. The hostile agent self policing PvP flagging system hinted at in the footage might be comparable to one of my all time favorite openworld rpgs ever: Ultima Online, or at least as it was originally launched.

Pie in the Sky

If you consider for a moment what other more recent games this resembles so far, it is difficult not to get ones hopes up. Consider first its pedigree (a Tom Clancy shooter), the difficulty tuning for three person teams (Destiny) and the broad shooter rpg setting itself (Borderlands 2, Fallout) it seems like a recipe for megahit. Consider further the aspects of the game they haven’t quite shown us outside of hints and details in the leaked trailer regarding how New York is rebuilt one stronghold and critical resource at a time, and I see a truly groundbreaking next generation gaming experience that could eclipse the competition.

Then why not shout it from the rooftops?

Compared to the deluge of footage we’d expect from any other Ubisoft flagship title like Assassin’s Creed, they have been pretty tight lipped about The Division. The site for the game is cool enough but the amount of actual game information and working footage is quite small. With just weeks ahead of the beta and a tentative March release not far behind it, there is valid concern in what we haven’t seen for the game yet. This would not be the first game shown at E3 that looked fantastic but did not resemble the final product – see the infamous case of Aliens: Colonial Marines, which was so bad it ended up in court. I doubt that is the case here, but it is worth citing.

Complete duds aside, we haven’t seen much at all about how progression works, side activities, any additional details about how habitually aggressive PvP is handled (this could still be cool), or any hint at what end game content will look like. The latter most could be a landmine issue for the success of the game and might be the most valid concern the game faces.

Another roadblock that is closer to home is the known stability problems that face the other recent Ubisoft online shooter – Rainbow Six: Siege. Granted, we’d hope they would have dedicated servers for an openworld rpg like The Division, but hopes and this actually being the case are two different things.

I don’t expect that the coming beta will be restricted by NDA, and hope to post a follow up once I have hands on experience to confirm or dispel these questions.

Update: The “leaked” trailer was released in the US a little while after I posted this. Keep it coming guys, it looks amazing.

 

Let’s start a riot – my Assassin’s Creed Syndicate review

image credit: ubisoft
image credit: ubisoft

Rain falls on the soot black heart of the industrial revolution; in the distance a clock tower bell chimes. London, 1868. With the ambition and vigor of a much younger game, Assassin’s Creed Syndicate aims to be the best in the series since Brotherhood. Taking seriously the bruising reviews for the previous title “Unity”, the teams at Ubisoft would not be satisfied to just put a fresh coat of paint on the sixth release. Every aspect of the controls were reinvented from basic movement, traversal, and stealth along with a massive overhaul to melee combat. The result looks and feels enough like our free-running, building scaling heroes of the past to pass as Assassin’s Creed but is far more fluid and ready to tackle the toughest urban playground ever featured in the series.

One could list out every new feature of combat and traversal in Syndicate, but it is easier to describe them in how a scene might play out. Your twin assassin of choice, be it stealth and dagger Evie Frye or her brawler brother Jacob, is aiding the Scotland Yard in the live capture of a criminal out of laws reach whose thugs are terrorizing the slums. Moving quickly on the rooftops from street to street with the help of a quick-firing rope launcher, you carefully take down a lookout and survey the alley where the gang is roughing up the locals. Spotting just two guarded ground escapes from the alley, you plan to quickly and quietly clear a path to one exit and escort the uncooperative high value target out to the street where a horse and carriage is waiting. Everything goes well, until just within feet of the carriage a second set of thugs happens to wander by and disrupts capture attempt. Breaking free the target runs to the streets and leaps into another carriage, raising a ruckus and attracting all manner of trouble as he speeds away. Having only seconds to close the gap to the escapee, the assassin takes the reigns of the first carriage and a high speed chase begins. Crashing through the cobbled streets of London, you manage to catch up, avoiding other carts and obstacles while trying match speed to line up your next move. Trusting the horse and cart’s current trajectory, you abandon the reigns and climb to the carriage roof, creating a split second opportunity to leap to the other carriage roof just before the carts separate or the road turns. Kicking the getaway driver out of his seat, you steer it back to the drop off point with the police – assuming thugs weren’t waiting for you there as well. None of this is scripted or plays out in “quick time”, it’s raw combat engine combined with the innovative carriage system that is integral to nearly every part of the game. A similar scene might have played out in and on top of a train, or across dozens of boats on the busy River Thames. It’s as if Ubisoft looked at groundbreaking naval combat in AC Black Flag and said “Let’s make the whole city feel like that”. It’s that good, but it gets even better.

While well-executed stealth puzzles are still the cornerstone of Assassin’s Creed, sooner or later an honest-to-goodness fight is going to break out. Thankfully, this no longer feels like just a punishment for failing a stealth objective. Totally re-imagined, the smoother feeling melee combo system is pure bliss to play and will leave you looking forward to your next knock-down brawl. Nine tough guys patrolling the illegal child-labor employing factory? Take out the foreman and free the children without anyone ringing the alarm bell? Maybe, or I could just pop my knuckles and ring the damn bell myself.

This duality is mirrored precisely in the twin heroes Evie and Jacob Frye: stealth and brawn. Or more accurately, refined discipline and brash style – as you’d be sorely mistaken to believe Evie was in any way less tough than her brother. It’s not just in the mechanics, but also through brilliant character writing. Their personalities and both complimentary and in contrast. This dynamic plays out beautifully between them as the story unfolds, adding another rich layer to an expertly crafted tale.

On story, allow me first me step back. I really enjoyed AC Unity, perhaps not as much as pirate-themed Black Flag but I argue most of the criticism Unity received was undeserved. Unity had very strong main characters, a wonderful story and a drop-dead gorgeous backdrop in revolution-era France. It’s lack of a key villain and inconsistent pacing is shared by almost every Assassin’s Creed before it, almost by design. Breaking with tradition, Syndicate establishes a strong villain right away to drive a solid narrative of corruption and intrigue without needlessly knocking off token bad guys just to turn a page. What follows is not one but several believable – and likable  – bad guys that prop up one of the best plots I’ve played in a very long time.

I was a little sad when I heard there would be no co-op play in Syndicate as the main characters would be perfect for it, but I respect Ubisoft’s decision to focus on making the single player experience the best it could be. The same can be said for a companion app, which was amazing in Unity. In all, Syndicate stands on its own without them as one of the best in the franchise, raising my hopes that Assassin’s Creed will continue to defy odds, raising the bar even higher for a genre it invented.

In a final passing note – one other thing Syndicate players may not notice is missing: senseless misogynist tropes. No comically low unlaced v-neck tops as armor, no prostitutes in distress, no crimes against women as contextual backdrop. Don’t miss them, don’t need them back. Thank you Ubisoft.

Ori and the Blind Forest: A Love Letter in a Time Capsule

image credit : moon studios / vg247
image credit : moon studios / vg247

Remember back when a good puzzle could transcend fiction? Think way back. Moon Studios’ Ori and the Blind Forest is a trip to an era that birthed gaming masterpieces that would forever set a high bar for an exploration rich, difficult, secret-filled puzzle jumpers. Ori begins at a gentle pace to establish the tone, setting and controls, but once the plot is set in motion it is clear the tasks at hand are far from easy. Beneath the disguise of the adorable heroine and stunning locations is the heart of a true challenge.

Along with clever implementation of classic abilities like double jump, wall jump and air stomp are some innovative new tricks that will put your skills to the test. At times daunting or even heart pounding, the difficulty ramps up quickly and makes no apologies for demanding exact timing and deep respect for character controls. It balances well a sense of wonder and exploration with a vast, detailed map stuffed with secrets and shiny things you cannot-yet-get-to, and is well populated with a colorful cast of menacing critters. To top it off, the musical score is outstanding – ranging from deeply emotional to energetic and dramatic orchestra.

Ori includes more than a few hat tips to venerated predecessors in the “metroidvania” genre, and plays as well as we remembered these games to be. Yet at the same time it is something quite new, fresh and thought provoking. It is also very, very hard. A glance at some of the toughest achievements in the game are some of the most insane I’ve seen. The top include a speed run achievement, an achievement for completing it without leveling up any of your abilities, and the highly improbable completion in a single life. Good luck with the last one – that’s some serious bragging rights, given how frequently you are likely to die (hint: repeatedly) before figuring out some of the more cruel traps and puzzles.

Ori is a love letter to the games we grew up with. I played through the first quarter of the game in one sitting over the course of hours – not only had I lost track of the time, I had been transported back to a part of my gaming youth. I’m thankful Moon Studios took the extra time they needed to put the finishing touches on this game – the delay from last year was well worth the wait.

Evolve: Seven Monster Tips for Defend

image credit: Turtle Rock / 2K / incgamers.com
image credit: Turtle Rock / 2K / incgamers.com

Morning, minions. It’s moving day for the hunters, and we are going to throw them a going away party. Whether you face it on day five of Evacuation or randomly in quick match, Defend mode as the monster is one of the hardest matches to win against a good team of hunters. Not only is it the only mode in which slaying all of the hunters counts for no gains – they return from the drop ship at full life almost immediately – the match timer counts down to a hunter win if the monster does not completely destroy both stage generators and the power source before the timer expires. It gets worse. Despite starting the match at stage three, and having a near continuous stream of Goliath minion pairs to help, the generators are defended by both the hunters, bottleneck terrain and armored turrets.  Destroy a generator, and some time is added back to the clock. Here are seven tips for monster players hoping to crush the hunters and destroy the evacuation ship in one of the funnest, most difficult map modes in Evolve.

Turret syndrome

This might sound obvious, but I’ll dare oversimplify the match with the first do-or-die tip. Prioritize the turrets. Your minions are quite capable of carrying the match all the way to the final power source with little assistance but stand no chance against the turrets and will not attack them. You and your minions will face high, sustained damage as long as they are standing – so when the match starts, eat as quickly as possible to shield up and try to take out at least one turret along side the first set of minions. Flee ideally before your shield is depleted and feed again, you are unlikely to regenerate any real health via food buffs in Defend. Return as soon as possible to finish wrecking turrets, and your second and third wave minions will do a lot more damage to the generator before getting killed.

Expect maximum hunter force – a good team will take huge risks to make stage one generator as hard for the monster as possible. As this point they can afford multiple full wipes and still pull out a win later if they damage the monster enough, prevent it from feeding, trap it away from the turrets, or any other super nasty harassment the hunters can dream up.

Follow your nose

If you haven’t developed a habit of continually smelling as the monster, now is a good time to start. Smell as you eat, smell as you change facing, smell before you attack, smell before you retreat. Smell everything. Otherwise you’ll never spot harpoons, most mines, and potential snacks hunters left for you. If you haven’t seen what an overlooked harpoon and a few cleverly hidden mines in your escape route can do to a monster that needs to get away fast, I’ll give you a hint – it’s not pretty and can completely blow the match.

If you are just out of line of sight but within smell range of the generator as you feed to get shields back, you can safely spot the hunters and keep an eye (or nose) on your minions and have a pretty good idea of how the fight is going. Hurt minions will usually turn on the hunters before they die, which can be an excellent opportunity to quickly incapacitate a vulnerable hunter.

Know when not to kill a downed hunter

During the fight keep in mind an incapacitated hunter is more or less out of the fight minus his or her sidearm. Most of time time this will also take a second hunter partially out of the fight to revive the down hunter unless they have Daisy, but killing a downed hunter can take more time than you want to spend if they have someone shielding or healing them or you are taking fire in the back. A dead hunter might make a good quick snack in a pinch, but is also back in the fight startlingly soon. Consider just incapacitating them unless you know they will go down quick and you’ll be able to eat them without being shot at.

Know your opponents hand

No matter if you are facing the classic four hunters or a mix of higher tier hunters, be familiar before the match with how their abilities can be used to ruin your day in Defend. Assault may have mines (super effective), long range toxic grenades, or potent burst damage. Ditto your other three hunter types, as each has similar abilities that can stack slow effects at range, trap or defend a location, or cause immense burst damage – usually in that order. The play area is very small compared to normal hunt maps, and with basically no fear of death any number of hunters can break off generator defense to chase you when you try to feed – even just slowing you down or pelting you when you feed is enough to keep the fight in their favor. Beware clever cat and mouse tactics. If you get distracted from feeding, turrets or generators for very long and it won’t matter how many times you kill the hunters – when the time is up they win.

Listen for audible callouts (or turn on subtitles) for when the hunters use key abilities. You’ll hear “switching to mines!” before Markov places a mine, which at close quarters gives you only seconds to avoid or destroy the mine. The same is true for most hunter special abilities.

Watch the clock

Keep a close eye on both your minion wave spawn timer (it also has an audible sound) as well as the match timer. If or when the match timer reaches two minutes, you need to know how much health the generator or power source has left and move to assist your minions. Use the minion timer to gauge if you should attack the generator yourself or wait for a wave. If you time it right, you can destroy the generator with the minions and have them survive to charge the next target – even though they are likely to die almost immediately to turret fire they might do a little damage if they weren’t too badly injured.

At the power source, feed and do your best to dismantle the front turrets first without getting overwhelmed, and feed as often as possible until the final two minute warning. At that point you’ll need to have also destroyed the rear turrets and be ready to engage the power source with everything you have left and push for the hard earned win.

In this last phase food is dangerously close to the fighting area, making it easier for hunters to deny your snacks when you flee. While the turrets are still up they can easily kill your minions and have a lot time to focus on you before the next minions spawn. This is where a lot of matches end in a hunter win and if you took a lot of health damage in earlier risky fights, it will be that much harder to survive.

Don’t die to wildlife

I see you laughing, but the “food” in Defend usually bites back. Those annoying (and yummy) electrified tentacle faced raptor critters can take a huge chunk out of your shields if you aren’t on your A game and are usually in pairs. This can cost you almost all of the shield you hoped to get by eating them – a costly delay when seconds matter and hunters might be bearing down on you. For the same reason, if you have no shields choose a less violent food first when possible or at least be very sure to get a clean kill when you engage them.

The giant sloth beasts or other aggressive wildlife may actually help you if you pass them up as a snack without enraging them. Better they attack a pursuing hunter than you, and if you’re super lucky the hunter’s team is distracted and you get a free incapacitated hunter.

Win day four in Evacuation

Days one through three of evacuation are a wash once day four arrives. As a monster this is your semifinal, lose this and on day five the turrets get extra armor. What started as an uphill fight now borders on impossible, as the turrets no longer crumble after a few hits and will make trapjaw food out of your minions. Know your map modes, and if you luck out you might get Nest on day four for a relatively good shot at a win. Succeed, and instead of turrets with extra armor, your minions have extra armor. Now, it’s a party. Time to evict some hunter scum!

See you on Shear.

Five of my favorite video game heroines

1) Amanda Ripley (Alien: Isolation)

Easily one of my favorite characters of any game, Amanda Ripley is the highlight of what might be one of the best games ever made. Alien: Isolation borders on perfect as a beautiful space/horror/survival title, and it owes a good deal of it’s success to its character writers. As the daughter of Ellen Ripley somewhere loosely following the events of the original 1979 Alien movie, Amanda is a skilled engineer whose quest to find out what happened to her mother leads her to take jobs that could one day lead her closer to the mystery surrounding the ill-fated towing ship. As the story progresses and she finds herself hunted as her mother once was, she uses her technical know-how and wits (rather than force) to evade all manner of gruesome death and find critical clues about her mother and her missing crew and the origins of the alien menace. The heart of this sci-fi thriller turns out to be very human, even occasionally touching – and never dull.

2) Cassandra (Dragon Age: Inquisition)

Although Cassandra is not quite a playable character outside of the combat sequences, she is otherwise central to the story in Dragon Age: Inquisition and definitely deserves a spot on a “best of” list of video game heroines. As a complex character defined equally by her flaws, faith, doubts and personal conviction, Cassandra lends a face and voice to a myriad of difficult moral conflicts told in the third Dragon Age. The game as a whole sports some of the best video gaming writing ever penned, and in a story that weaves together many modern issues including religion, war, government, sexuality and individualism, Cassandra’s personal character arc(s) capture more sense of growth and depth than found in any medium, let alone just games. She’s also somewhat of a rare gem, being a strong religious type that narrowly avoids every archetype she might have been compared to – and turns out to be a very likable, believable character that remains true to herself.

3) Max (Life is Strange)

Not quite your literary “everygirl” , the introspective and shy main character Max navigates the perils of high school, family, bullying, drugs and time travel in this unique and stunningly beautiful story-driven game from DONTNOD. We learn more about Max and the other characters in Life is Strange through the choices she makes, questions she asks, and places she explores. No matter if the player opts to make fun of the embarrassed bully or comfort her (among numerous other decision forks), the tale of choice and consequence that develops is far from ordinary.

4) Lara Croft (Tomb Raider 2013)

Unlike the character’s hyper-sexualized prior titles, the reboot of the Tomb Raider franchise in 2013 features the origin story of a much more believable, exceptionally well written young Lara Croft. As a shipwrecked student thrust into an epic, gritty story of survival she must work with the other members of the stranded science team to solve mysteries of the island ruins and escape.

5) Maggie (Evolve)

Even though one could argue that the playable hunter characters in “Evolve” aren’t in the same category of hero as the previously mentioned titles, Turtle Rock and 2K managed to squeeze in a surprising amount of “apparent depth” to the characters, dialog and almost-present plot arc in what is otherwise a pure PvP Battle Arena style game. Admittedly no less of a trope than the British safari guy with a white mustache, the grizzled would-be-at-home-in-the-Louisiana-bayou tracker and her alien pet dog pack some of the most interesting dialog and back story in the game.

Evolve and the Art of the Close Match

image credit trueachievements.com / turtlerock / 2k
image credit trueachievements.com / turtlerock / 2k

“Clearly, we are dealing with something far beyond ordinary wildlife.”

Welcome to planet Shear. Following an amazing launch day and boasting improvements to nearly every aspect of an already exceptional game, 2K and Turtle Rock Studios “Evolve” shows beautiful things follow a well executed beta test. Not only did they incorporate some feedback from their testers, the release included finer tuned the play controls, quicker matchmaking times, numerous graphics improvements and tighter-than-ever hunter vs monster balance. The results are epic.

The beta was an outrageously good time, despite some rough edges at the time I was already sold on the sum of it’s virtues and flaws. As I mentioned previously in my beta review blog, one of the coolest things about the game can at times be one of the most frustrating – it’s hard – but I’ve come to see this is no accident by any measure. The balance between four hunters and one massive monster necessitates tight teamwork on the part of the hunters to stop the match from quickly turning into a quick, often comical snack for a skilled monster. Since beta, fine tuning of hunter abilities and some key monster abilities has narrowed the gap, and in practice has made it less likely for a match between players who are trying to become overwhelmingly one sided. Yes, there is a learning curve, and the game is not as easy as some other traditional space shooters, but the end product dares to be different for all the right reasons.

Weather you queue alone, with a full team of friends, or with a mix of strangers and AI controlled hunters, if you spend the time to learn your hunter or monster abilities you’ll see no match is truly over until the last body drops. Each map abounds with seemingly innocuous details ranging from elevation changes, low clearance tunnels or overpasses, ambient wildlife, buildings and other terrain that if used correctly can turn a massacre back into a close fight for either side. A clever monster learns to ignore carnivorous plants and certain critters, knows when to hide her tracks, and which corners of the map she’d rather not get caught in. Hunters in turn must learn acute situational awareness of their own in addition to working together, and not a whiff of this is force fed by game mechanics. No glowing arrows, no dialog hints  – just prior experience, careful observation and intuition.

In addition to the intense pure PvP online modes, Evolve includes a very cool looking campaign mode “Evacuation” which can be played competitively, cooperatively or solo. I haven’t taken a break from PvP “Hunt” mode yet to try Evacuation but from what I have seen it looks solid enough to stand as it’s own game. I am interested though, as the character dialog, personalities and plot opening hint at a very creative and enjoyable story. This was one of the best surprises about Evolve – a competitive “battle arena” style romp that could afford to go light on the plot and writing – instead the opening sequence alone manages to fit in more clever characters and plot potential than some other “story driven” shooters manage in their whole span.

During my first night, I had the pleasure of playing with and against the same group of similarly skilled players – all folks I had met randomly via the matchmaking system. Not all of us had the special edition, so we saw a pleasant mix of tier 1 and tier 3 characters and monsters. I found my losing matches to be just as invigorating as my wins (ok, nearly as..), largely due to the fact that most of the matches were close ones that could have gone either way – a balance I believe Turtle Rock and 2K worked hard to achieve. Finally, while I haven’t played Evacuation mode yet to say for sure, if it is anything as cool as PvP Hunt mode I think Evolve stands as the best candidate yet for Game of the Year.

And yes, Daisy.. you are my favorite trapjaw. See you on Shear.

MMO Pioneers at “Daybreak Game Company” no strangers to name changes

image credit SOE/Daybreak Game Company everquestnext.com
image credit SOE/Daybreak Game Company everquestnext.com

Few MMO developers can match credentials with the team that created EverQuest, easily one of the most successful Online RPG of all time. With their upcoming re-imagined “EverQuest Next” just around the corner, I was a bit surprised to see Sony Online Entertainment sold to an investment firm – but this may end up being fantastic news.

What started at 989 Studios in the late 90’s grew with the industry they carved a path for, enduring numerous name changes but much of the core team and leadership remained including key industry pioneer John Smedley. Freshly re-branded “Daybreak Game Company” they will also be free to develop on a more diverse platform base including Xbox and mobile devices, in addition to their PC and Playstation roots.

I am excited to see what comes next from Daybreak. EverQuest Next is no less ambitious than the first was, something I first blogged about here. The further possibility that it might also land on consoles would be wonderful news indeed.

“Life is Strange” quick graphics comparison

For the most part, although the graphics for “Life is Strange” did not vary much between the PC version and Xbox One, some scenes with effects or dramatic lighting did seem to look better on PC. Below is an example from one of the latter scenes in Episode 1. Mild Spoilers.

PC  – manually set to 1080p for best results:

 

Xbox One – manually set to 720p for best results:

 

Update: Finally sorted why it seemed I could not get my raw nvidia shadowplay files to stay at 1080p when I uploaded them to YouTube. One, lowering the shadowplay bitrate slider to 10Mbps from 50 made the file size more manageable without major impact to quality and two, most importantly I had to wait quite a while past the time YouTube said it was done processing before it allowed the HD resolutions to be selected. Whew.

Thought Provoking, Moving “Life is Strange”

image credit: dontnod / square enix
image credit: dontnod / square enix

As the credits began to roll, I sat stunned. Far more detailed and complex than the choice-driven story games it might be compared to, DONTNOD’s first episode of “Life is Strange” doesn’t hold back. Even as I poured over the myriad of choices and characters I had interacted with I wondered what I may have overlooked, or how differently my conversations might have gone had I gone down a different route, been a little less cautious, or explored more.

Pushing the limits for even the detail obsessed like myself, the lovingly crafted, vibrant world draws you in. As you explore, patience and curiosity are rewarded with new dialog options and choices, not all immediately for the better. Thankfully our protagonist “Max” has an uncanny ability to rewind time, even if just briefly, to relive a moment and retain cognition of what is to come.

Way cooler than just for puzzle solving, Max’s unexpected gift is at the heart of the story and drives much of the masterful character development that unfolds. Many dialog and story options only unlock after you’ve rewound a situation at least once, after which you may second guess yourself anyway. Even after making what seemed to be ideal choices in the majority of situations, I wondered if I had painted myself too narrow of a picture of the characters I had met or if I had missed something critical by playing it safe. Before it was done, I knew I’d need all of my save files to explore the full range of consequences that lay hidden in the incredibly rich story and environments.

Not too long, and not too short, Episode 1 of Life is Strange is a beautiful, fresh take on a “tell tale” style story with excellent writing, a fantastic original music score, and compelling characters. It is evident everywhere that much care and passion went into perfecting each nuance by the team at DONTNOD, and I am thankful that Square Enix gave them the creative room to let it become a title you’d want to rewind, many times.

 

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