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Make it a (Virtual) Reality: Life is Strange

Virtual reality has the power to strengthen the relationships that people grow with characters in videogames. Imagine making real eye-contact with The Walking Dead’s Clementine or fighting alongside BioShock Infinite’s Elizabeth as if they were real people. It’s a hugely promising concept that could serve to enrich narratives over the course of the next few years. This week sees the launch of one such title that could truly show the potential of VR storytelling. That title is Life is Strange from Dontnod Entertainment.

Life is Strange is a five-part series that stars a young girl named Max. A photography senior at college, Max discovers that she can rewind time, using her powers to save an old friend named Chloe. With this hook, Life is Strange takes players on a story-based adventure that allows them to rewind time and make different choices to effect the future, promising multiple endings. This outline might not sound like the most immediately obvious example of a videogame in desperate need of a VR adaption, but it’s Life is Strange’s strong story focus that make it an interesting candidate.

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Judging by the first 20 minutes of the title, a video of which was released earlier this week, Life is Strange places a huge emphasis on characters and interaction. Player’s hear Max’s thoughts as she explores to halls and classrooms of her school and are even given the choice of what to say when talking to other characters. As discussed with Telltale Games’ titles in the past, VR could give players a much more personal stake in this adventure, making direct contact with characters as they would in real life. No doubt that players are already set to grow a strong attachment to Chloe as they progress through the videogame and that could only be strengthened by VR giving us the impression that she’s really standing next to us.

It could also serve to greatly enhance the time travelling aspect of the title. The freedoms and limitations of this mechanic are yet to be fully realised but just imagine being able to relive the exact same moments over and over again with the freedom to see how your actions reflect the future and then change them. There’s also the chance to act with the world in a much more natural way, using a head-mounted display’s (HMD) head-tracking to look at objects to interact with. It’s also not hard to imagine how Max’s photography skills could be mixed with that same technology should it find a way into the actual gameplay.

Of course, one issue that does come up is the inevitable question of perspectives. Life is Strange uses a third-person camera to treat Max as a character that players get to know rather than feel like a reflection of their own personality. VR works fine in third person, but would risk losing some of that direct contact mentioned earlier. At the same time, a first-person view might limit the connection players with Max. Perhaps a hybrid of the two could be employed, although this would require careful optimisation.

Life is Strange is one of the most promising new videogames of 2015. As the series goes on it will be interesting to see just how VR could fit into it.