some games a week 2015 : week seven – Life Is Strange episode 1 / Game of Thrones episode 2

Some words from my brain to yours about whatever game has been occupying my time over the last 7 days. Once a week, EVERY week for the duration of 2015. God help us. Although I slightly fuck my own format here and talk about a few games instead.

Here we are at week 7. Already! Madness. And while the majority of my time is still being spent with Fire Emblem Awakening, I have managed to break away from Chrom’s mission for a little while and get stuck into a couple of new episodic adventures over the past 7 days. Also worth mentioning; I started the remastered PS4 edition of Grim Fandango this week but Manny hit a glitch in the server room of his office and got stuck running on the spot, losing me an hour of progress. So I can’t see me going back to that in too much of a hurry. Anyway, onto happier times.

Right to the point: Episode 1 of Life Is Strange is absolutely fantastic. In fact, it’s actually grown on me more and more since completing it, as I run the story, setting and characters over and over in my head. Even on paper it’s enticing, a beguiling mixture of off-kilter Americana: the dread of Alan Wake, the teenage doom of Donnie Darko and the Stephen King sense that horror is lurking just underneath the surface. All of that atmosphere is then fused with the feel of a low key indie-movie and topped off with a neat time travel mechanic. What could go wrong? Well, probably loads, but it doesn’t.

It looks gorgeous drenched in its autumnal colours and, despite a couple of frame rate snags, is a joy to play with the on screen hand-drawn interface tying into the atmosphere perfectly. Yes, some of the teenage dialogue feels like it was written by people who can probably barely remember being a teenager but it manages to deliver a narrative driven, moral choice heavy adventure with a real element of freshness. The ability to rewind and alter your actions and conversation choices is a revelation, not because there’s always a right or wrong way to tackle a scenario, but because it gives you the sense that the whole world is malleable to your whims. It also dangles some very intriguing plot threads in front of you so I’ll be downloading episode 2 when that drops in March without a doubt. It certainly sets the bar for episodic narrative adventures in 2015, which brings me neatly on to….

The second episode of Telltale Games’ Game Of Thrones. Episode one, which set up the story of House Forrester and their fight to survive following the Westeros-shaking events of The Red Wedding, was pretty damn good. The characters and plot threads that Telltale laid out were enough to help you overlook that creaking, recycled game engine that’s been a lumbering staple of their games since The Walking Dead. Unfortunately, episode 2 fumbles it’s story and draws attention to all the jerks, pauses, dialogue glitches and generally shoddy presentation going on behind all that talking. Still heavily reliant on uneventful TV-show cameos and familiar Thrones tropes and themes, episode 2 was a bore; the times where you’re left to wander the environment feeing stilted and restricted. The introduction of Asher, an estranged member of the Forrester family living as a confident and brash sellsword in Yunkai, was a welcome one, but he’s sadly underused.

There is a fantastic overall story here, potentially. The problem is that in a dull episode such as this one that failing game engine stands out even more so and makes it a chore to get through. I get that they’re releasing their games on just about every gaming format known to man, but when the performance is almost as bad on a PS4 as it is on an iPad, my patience starts to falter, as it did with The Wolf Among Us for entirely the same reasons. We obviously won’t see it happen with any of their current games, but it might be time for Telltale to smarten things up a bit. Good job I didn’t pull the trigger on that season pass.


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