Tag Archives: interactive fiction

Life Is Strange: Chrysalis

I’m in a weird position here, in that I’ve never played an episodic game before. The chapters are not terribly long, but they’re long enough that the full game seems like it will turn out to be incredibly long, plus also I’m so bad at reviewing partial games anyway. Not to say I expect to stop playing Life Is Strange! But things happen sometimes, and the part where I opted to take a break between chapters is, if not telling, at least cautionary.

So, anyway, this is one of the new wave of exploratory, talky, thoughtful games that are mostly devoid of shooting wave after wave of nameless enemies who are (if not alien invaders or zombies) nevertheless human, thereby raising questions of morality. You may recall that I played Gone Home, about an older sister arriving unexpectedly from college to find that her entire family had been upturned in the meantime, via exploration of the empty house. Life Is Strange’s first chapter, Chrysalis, is certainly more “interactive character” / less “detached observer” than that was, which is a good thing. It was a lot easier to get immersed in Max’s problems, because she actually had a personality and a physical form, instead of being a set of silent eyeballs floating through a silent house. (Irony: I did like Gone Home, but its flaws are apparent now that I’ve played literally any other game in the same new genre of play.)

Here’s the deal as gleaned in the first five minutes of play. Max Caulfield is a new transfer student to a prestigious high school academy on the Oregon coast, returning to her hometown from Seattle after 3 years away because it is the best place to pursue her love of photography. She’s an out of place loner who has not reached out to her former best friend because of a fear of rejection, she’s learning to navigate the many cliques (especially the Vortex Club, for hyper-popular people) in her new environment, she’s barely aware of the geek who is desperately hitting on her at every turn, she keeps avoiding a submission to a photography contest that the teacher she idolizes is pressuring her to enter (also fear of rejection), her earbuds are full of the latest alternative music you’ve never heard of, she finds herself thinking a lot about the preponderance of flyers about a girl who went missing last spring… it’s a high school story. Cool. Been here, done this.

Then, by way of a massive spoiler in the 5-10 minute range, it takes a sharp turn into inexplicable sci-fi territory, and the game is off to the races. I’ll probably talk more about how in future chapters when it would be less of a spoiler than it is in this one, but I am both impressed and a little dismayed by what is a paradigm-shift to RPG elements of games (if not to strategy elements; I’d link what game I’m thinking of, but the same spoiler problem applies) combined with a healthy middle finger raised straight at me. But[1] in a good way!

Long story short: The Steam Machine was a good purchase, if the new genre are all as good as the two I’ve played so far.

[1] Apparently, since I loved it and want to play more.

Gone Home

header_292x136Although I have not touched a game on PC since probably 2006 at the latest, I still have a Steam account from back when that was a reasonable place to play the various Half-Life sequels. This is relevant because, some months ago, a friend gifted me a first-person (rather than text) interactive fiction game called Gone Home. I took a week or so getting the Steam client to work with my laptop (since I’m not going to put a game on a desktop and the Steambox still shimmers hazily in my future), and then I played about 45 minutes of the game and set it aside.

Which is not to say anything bad about it, I just have a habit of not completing games, which is why even one that lasts about two hours took me two or three months to actually finish, and honestly I’m a little surprised it happened all the same. So, what’s the deal? It’s 1995, and you the player have just returned home from backpacking in Europe. Only, nobody answered the phone, nobody picked you up at the airport, and the house is dark, silent, and (thanks to an ominous storm, pervasive minor key mood music, and the implausibility of every family member being away) kind of menacing. Still, it’s IF, so the only thing to do is wander from room to room, reading the notes and computer screens and various detritus of daily life that your family has left scattered around, trying to figure out what has happened here.

At two hours, “what happened here?” is pretty much the whole game, so I won’t say anything to spoil it, but I appreciated that every resident has a story waiting to be discovered, and I also appreciated that each story was opaque to the other residents, wrapped up in their own lives and troubles, only discoverable by the player because you are coming in with a fresh eye after having been gone from home for like nine months.Exciting high adventure, it’s not, but it sets a hell of an atmosphere, at turns creepy, depressing, or nostalgic. I’m not sure I’d pay the $20 Steam has it listed at as of press time, but as a gifted diversion, it definitely hits the spot.