Chris Thursten'S 2015 PERSONAL PICK
Along with our group-selected 2015 Game of the Year Awards, each member of the PC Gamer staff has independently chosen one game to commend as one of the year's best.
Let's be real for a second. It is December 2015 and there are no more opinions left to have about Life is Strange. The hot take mine has been stripped clean, the last few precious fragments of opinion-ore shipped off for processing in Tumblr's distant refineries. This was the year's most innovative, diverse, engaging and contentious adventure game, combining the potential fanatical fan investment of a BioWare RPG with the potential fanatical fan investment of a cult TV show from ten years ago.
In the name of keeping things simple, then, I have chosen Life is Strange as my personal pick for 2015 because I really liked it. I enjoyed following Max Caulfield's story through to its ending, and even appreciated that ending.
Life is Strange doesn't get everything right. It has a brilliant premise that it struggles to steer past a certain point. It introduces a great puzzle-solving mechanic by giving you the ability to rewind time, but underutilises it later on. Its script is deft and thoughtful and clunky by turns, and it showcases a few of the year's best performances and also that one fisherman in chapter two (betrayed by his script, to be fair).
If you focus on these faults, there's a risk that you'll miss the wood for the dark Northwestern pines. As Life is Strange winds its ambitious and inconsistent course, it finds itself in completely new territory. It's unlike any other game I've played this year except maybe the PS4-bound Everybody's Gone To The Rapture, and it is decidedly more than the sum of its parts.
The most important thing to me is the game's tone. Life is Strange is naive and romantic and while there is an element of threat, it's not the type of threat that videogames usually present: violence is a factor, yes, but so is social exclusion, anxiety, loss and unrequited love. It's a game about the self-important funk of your mid-late teens, when everything is at once Very Important and also Probably Bullshit. I think that's why I found it so convincing. It's not realistic, but it's unrealistic in the way that young people are unrealistic.
The finale of chapter two is the game's highlight, for me, a moment when Life is Strange manages to work as teen drama and as detective game and as a superhero fantasy all at once. Momentarily stripped of your ability to rewind time, you have to use what you've learned about somebody to help them in a time of real need, with real consequences for failure. It is heartbreaking to get it wrong, and provides a feeling of genuine accomplishment when you get it right.
Nothing else in the game quite lives up to that moment, but Arcadia Bay remains a place you want to be and the relationship between Chloe and Max is a powerful reason to keep going. In its final moments—no spoilers, really—Life is Strange raises questions that are simple, subtle, and affecting. Can you really go home again? What is the appropriate response to loss? How much ground should you give to the notion that your fate is ultimately out of your hands?
I loved the way the last episode allowed you to outline your own response to those ideas, to plant your flag in the ground one way or another before moving on from these characters and this place. When all's said and done, I felt like I'd been on a complete and self-contained journey with Max Caulfield, one that I'm unlikely to go back and repeat but that I'll be thinking about for a while. In a year of massive sequels and sprawling RPG campaigns, Life is Strange has provided a much-appreciated alternative. Metal Gear Solid V made me wonder what I’d do with an oil rig, millions of dollars and a nuke; Life is Strange made me want to go and lie listlessly on the grass somewhere and smoke weed. I love that our chosen hobby has started to make room for both of those things.