What is it?
An M-Rated episodic video game with an interactive non-linear story developed by Dontnod Entertainment and published by Square Enix. The game is a cross-platform single player game, available on Steam (Mac and PC) PlayStation 3, PlayStation 4, Xbox 360, and Xbox One. The full game is 5 episodes long, and was released worldwide with the first episode launching January 2015 and the final episode in October of 2015.
There so many good things about this game. Any of the reviews you read on Steam are just about guaranteed to rave about the game’s music, composed by Jonathan Morali. I am not an exception. One of the first things I do when playing a game is adjust the music and sound effects so that I can listen to other things (people chatting in Skype/Ventrillo or Netflix going in the background). I was pleasantly surprised that this game had an indie music feel to it, meaning the music was phenomenal and I highly recommend to any gamer to keep it audible while playing.
From the very first episode the game itself was engaging, immersing the player in the fictional town of Arcadia Bay Oregon. I was pleasantly surprised with how painless and streamlined the tutorial was. I was also excited when I saw how the game both allowed players to skip any backstory they weren’t interested in, but made sure it was there, for those who were interested or those who would eventually want to go back and get a more thorough experience. This optional depth played through in the later episodes as well, allowing for players to get exactly as much story as they needed while letting them get as much backstory and additional information as they wanted. Plus, most of the game has voice over, where Hannah Telle , the voice of Max Caulfield and Ashly Burch, the voice of Chloe Price did a phenomenal job. (I think it’s worth mentioning that the original script was in French and Dontnod had decided allocate more of the script to their voice overs and script than any other part of the game).
Originally, I was going to say the shout out to Final Fantasy: The Spirits Within was a slightly annoying marketing ploy, but upon further research and a brief conversation with a friend about how Platinum Games, the developers of Bayonetta II, did a shout out to Nintendo for letting them make the game, I realized I couldn’t just assume that Square Enix requested the Easter Egg. I also found it cool that there were a lot of other geeky references that I enjoyed, and a few I missed during my play through.
Although the game is not very long, it is a very content rich game. One of the things I felt was done exceptionally well was Dontnod Entertainment’s ability to tell an interactive story that actually changed with the decisions the player made. Although overall story wasn’t changed all that much, the decisions the players made had an impact on the options for decisions they could have in future episodes. I loved how real they were able to make the game, despite having fictional characters and a fantastically unrealistic mechanic (time travel) allowing it to combine entertainment and engagement. Not only did the player have to think, but they often had to feel the consequences of their actions. That being said, this is not really the type of game to play while half asleep or if you want a game to just pick up and play for some mindless fun. Luckily, even though the subject matter was pretty heavy and fairly deep, the controls and general gameplay was simple to understand, making the player focus on the puzzles they need to solve, rather than the format of the controls (even though I had a hell of a time controlling the camera even up until level 5… I’m still not sure why it gave me so much trouble).
I also wanted to give the story props for hitting a subject that is seldom touched upon in games such as suicide, abuse (emotional and physical), abduction, and the gritty portrayal of victims. These along with the sociopathic portrayals can be a daunting thing to put mass market on an entertainment platform, but they were done in such a way that was both indelicate and well received.
Finally, on the expected story path, the game was very well written, making players feel the emotional baggage. When I first started playing, I had started streaming the game on my Twitch.tv channel (a site that allows people to watch gamers play a game live). When I was about a third of the way through the first episode, someone came in my channel and told me “I hope you like crying on camera,” then left. Now, I’ll be the first to tell you that I cry pretty easily during movies, especially Pixar movies, those guys really know how to tug my heart strings, but I had made it to episode 5 without sheading a tear, even though I was pretty emotionally invested in the story. However, I can tell you with fair certainty, that one of the possible endings is very likely to make most players at least well up, with how it’s told (and yes, I did cry).
SPOILER ALERT – Until “Final Thoughts”
So the core of the game, and its story, circled around how Max had a vision of destruction, then obtained time control powers… from taking a picture of a butterfly? The way the game seemed to go was there was a phantom deer that represented Rachel, and the butterfly seemed to represent Chloe, but it didn’t make much sense to me how she got her powers, unless it was just some sort of weird cosmic happenstance to teach her a lesson… but even then, why would she have had a vision of what was to come if she kept using her powers, before she got her powers…? The whole thing probably could have been explained and/or thought through just a bit better.
Another major problem I had with the game was the alternate ending (the one that the developers didn’t want/expect players to see). It felt like a total cop out, or something that had to be quickly thrown together because the developers ran out of either time or money. Whereas the scene that I (and presumably most) players chose first is rich with emotional hardships for sacrificing one person, the ending where you let the entire town die to save your best friend just shows the player the wreckage without any heartfelt turmoil as you get to drive into the sunset of rainbows and unicorns leaving responsibility and regrets behind you, even though you passively murdered your best friend’s mother, she’s just OK with the whole situation. It was like they just parachuted something in to “appease” those who chose an ending beside what they wanted/expected. At the end of the game, when it shows the statistics of who picked what, you find that about half of the players chose the disappointing ending (although as I mentioned before I’m going to assume that most of those were people replaying the game to see the alternate ending, because you know you were curious – I just looked it up on YouTube, but still!).
Overall, I’d give this game a 9/10 stars, deducting a star because of the secondary ending and the lax explanation of how Max obtained her time travel powers to begin with (as well as her random psychic ability?)
What did you think of the game? Please leave your comments below!