"What kind of mean girl is Victoria Chase?"

That's was the question as I stared at the white paint splashed on her chic black blouse — the white paint I splashed on her chic black blouse.

Victoria and her inner circle had been garrisoned on the steps to our dorm at Blackwell Academy, ridiculing away anyone not in their graces. "Go f--- your selfie," she sniped. And so I'd been turned away, bounced with a side of slightly clever beauty shaming.

So I did what any teenage girl bullied out of her dorm would do: I sabotaged the handle on a nearby paint bucket, waited for a worker to raise it onto a scaffold bar and watched it crash to the ground feet away from Victoria and her hangers-on.

And I laughed. 

But then, asked whether to comfort a sullen Victoria or splash more paint on the wound, I didn't know what to do. Was she faking a moment of weakness to lure me into a real one, all so she could ramp up her queen bee browbeating? Or was this a chance to make a friend?

Dontnod Entertainment's "Life is Strange," like all adventure games, can be road-mapped. You can play it, learn where its decisions lead, and steer accordingly. Or you could just look up a walk-through online.

What sets the French developer's sophomore effort apart from other episodic adventures, however, is the ability to see where the game is going while you're playing it. As Blackwell student Maxine Caulfield, you develop the power to rewind time and peer down both branches in the road before embarking down one.

It's another temporal tinkering mechanic from Dontnod, whose first game, the underappreciated "Remember Me," had you "remix" people's memories to achieve desired outcomes. However, things still ended the same way. In "Life is Strange," they don't.

On paper, the game is a curious thought experiment: What if you could see the consequences of your decisions before making them? Would you do things any differently?

My first instinct was to be nice to Victoria, and I was. But I couldn't turn down the chance to see her react to her own medicine, so I rewound and spooned her some.

Once I'd witnessed the vulnerable hunch in her posture, the embarrassment wracking her brow, was I any more or less committed to my first move? I was no longer choosing my words, I was choosing her reaction to them.

The ludic profundity of "Life is Strange" ends here. Even knowing what happens next, your vision is still nearsighted by nature. That's partly because Dontnod narrows the windows when you can rewind and re-decide, telling you all too ominously that "this action will have consequences" before you pass the point of no return.

The myopia of playing the game also stems from its episodic structure. I don't know where mocking or befriending Victoria will lead until, at the very earliest, I play the game's second episode, set to release in March.

All Max's clairvoyance means, then, are moments of shallow empathy and guesswork. Of course, it shouldn't mean more than that. What's the point of playing a game where I know every possible destination and how to get there?

The question becomes, then: What else is there to being able to see a little further down the road? Dontnod has four more episodes to answer that question.

In the meantime, "Life is Strange" has plenty going for it. The user interface is smooth, the campus atmosphere textured — despite way more use of the word "hella" than you'll hear from anyone younger than 25. Dialogue in general is a bit too cutely packaged, a bit too Diablo Cody, but not to the game's detriment. Considering Max's precarious place in the social web of the Blackwell community, episode two can't come soon enough.

Yes, "Life is Strange" is already a fun trip — even without a map.


"The Lost Lords," the second of six installments in Telltale Games' "Game of Thrones" adventure series, continues wrinkling the genre's conventions in its own absorbing way.

While seeing what's next for Mira, Gared and the rest of House Forrester, the game introduces you to Asher Forrester, the second-born son of the embattled house, as he scrapes for money with a mercenary partner. And you learn Rodrik, the first-born, survived the bloodshed at The Twins depicted in "Iron From Ice" following the Red Wedding.

As each character carves out a dilemma in and out of Westeros, encountering key players from the HBO drama, you draw upon your own feelings toward them. When you see Jon Snow or Tyrion Lannister rendered realistically against Telltale's painterly backgrounds, it's four seasons' worth of feelings informing what you say and do next.

If "Life is Strange" is mapping out a new dramatic space, "Game of Thrones" continues to be a struggle against the pressures of a preexisting one.

Lake Life Editor David Wilcox can be reached at (315) 282-2245 or david.wilcox@lee.net. Follow him on Twitter @drwilcox, or find him on PSN or Xbox Live under the name davewiththeid.

0
0
0
0
0

Features editor for The Citizen.