In September 2017, I wrote a post shortly after playing the first episode of Life is Strange. The final paragraph started with the line: “I’m sure I’ll go back to [it] at some point in the future.” It may have taken me over two years to get there but with our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 underway, that time was earlier this month.
I didn’t finish all the episodes in 2017 because it wasn’t what I wanted from a gaming experience at that moment. With a lot going on in the real world, after being at work all day I couldn’t face stepping back into Max’s shoes, dealing with all that teenage anxiety, and making decisions that would have long-lasting effects on other characters. Instead I wanted to get lost in a game where I could simply switch off, so I turned to the Blackwell series by Wadjet Eye Games and became a detective.
But let’s step back in time a little further: if the first episode of Life is Strange was released in January 2015, then why did it take me so long to finally get around to playing it? On paper it looks like exactly the kind of title I’d enjoy: ‘an award-winning and critically-acclaimed adventure game that allows the player to rewind time and affect the past, present and future’. Throw in a female protagonist too and I should have been all over it. Yet there was one reason that stopped me from picking it up for a couple of years…
Its episodic nature.
I understand the theory of why games released in this format can be a good thing for both developers and players. For the former, it’s a way of delivering chunks of your project to your audience far more quickly than it would be to wait until a title is ready in its entirety. You can use the money generated from the sale of one episode to fund the creation of the next; and once the season is completely finished, you can stick all the sections into a bundle and sell it as a special edition. It’s a win-win situation.
There’s also the possibility of a better game. Developers are able to make a project over a longer period of time and, with feedback received from gamers after each episode, future instalments can be fine-tuned to open up the opportunity for higher review scores. And instead of releasing a full title and then having it fade in everyone’s mind a couple of weeks later – or months, if you’re lucky – every episode means new conversations on social media for players and continued attention for creators.
The theory is great – but I’m not sure it actually works in practice. The idea of having to wait a year or sometimes longer for a game to be released from start to finish just doesn’t cut it nowadays. Digital distribution platforms such as Steam and the PlayStation Store offer players what seems like an endless list of titles, and ones which are perceived to be more complete than episodic releases. They come with the attractive benefit of being able to experience an entire game without hanging on for the next instalment.
This is why I skipped Life is Strange four years ago. My original intention after the first episode was published was to wait until the final one was released in October 2015 to play it. But you know what it’s like when you’re a gamer with a backlog: other titles come out and catch your attention, meaning older ones possibly get forgotten about and end up languishing on your wishlist. The amount of hype surrounding DONTNOD Entertainment’s project also added to my lack of enthusiasm about playing it.
But here I am, over four years later, finally convinced to give it a try. It’s thanks to suggestions from several blogger friends recently that I’m now picking up a controller and playing Life is Strange during our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20. So far I’ve made it through first episode and am actually quite enjoying it, although that may be because I know what to expect this time and am preparing myself for the feels as a result. Who knows, I might even complete it this time and move on to Life is Strange: Before the Storm.
But as for episodic releases: they’re not really for me. Give me a game I can play from start to finish and see through to a fulfilling conclusion, rather than a chunk of it that leaves me with a cliffhanger for the next month or so – because I won’t be waiting for the next episode.