Our relationship with Telltale has its ups and downs, but fair is fair: we do quite enjoy some of their output. The Wolf Among Us; Tales from the Borderlands; the current season of Batman… They aren’t all gold, but Telltale has its moments.
What confounds us at Mojo, is how linear their games have become. While based predominantly on choices, (and there are plenty of them), they do not, despite what we are told at the beginning of the games, have many consequences. Character X might "remember that," but in the end, choices are more about short-term emotional manipulation rather than actual gameplay or story outcomes.
Be that as it may, it might not be something you care too much about either way, but here at Mojo, we are all about forcing PSAs on you. After some impassionate discussions during a recent board meeting, we concluded it was our duty to present two games similar in style to those of Telltale's, but where choices have actual consequences: Life is Strange and Until Dawn both have prequels and sequels recently released or on the docket, but as we like to take our time here, we give to you the originals.
Life is Strange
Donnie Darko meets The Longest Journey in one of the better adventure games I have played in a while. Zaarin, too, likes it, and if that isn't testimonial, I don't know what is?
Here you follow a high-school girl who finds she has the power to travel back in time while having premonitions of a disastrous storm coming to destroy her town. You can travel back in time to change actions you've made at most any time, with puzzles in the game based on that mechanism. Granted, they aren't exactly overly complex puzzles, but… Puzzles! That's one thing we've been missing from Telltale's recent output.
While the budget was clearly low -- the technical execution doesn't live up to the artistic aspirations -- the story and dialogue are of particularly high standards. It all feels real, the characters and the high-school relationships and all. Nothing is forced, and the story paces smoothly and naturally through ten or so hours of gameplay.
The amount of which the choices made throughout ties to the story is almost staggering, to the point a replay can almost feel like that of an alternate script.
Life is Strange is YA at its best, and Adventure Gaming 3.0 they way it should be done. It's available for every platform under the sun, and the first episode of a prequel, Before the Storm, was recently released for PC, Xbox One, and PS4. A sequel is on its way, so Square Enix is apparently milking the franchise for what it's worth.
Teens trapped in a snowstorm? Stalkers? An asylum? A fight for their lives to stay alive until -- you guessed it -- dawn? Until Dawn's a game that crams in almost literally every horror-story trope, and it does a good job balancing them into an eight-hour long game. There isn't much in terms of puzzles, but the quick-time events are intense and fun and have consequences to how the game plays through.
The character interactions are a differentiator too. You can technically save all the characters, though that is easier said than done. As you often are faced with multiple options -- not just black and white ones -- the relationships fluidly change, and there is even a chart showing how they have evolved during the game.
Until Dawn isn't as much of a roller coaster ride of choices as Life is Strange is, but then, this kind of horror stories don't tend to be too subtle either. A cast which includes Rami Malek, Peter Stormare, and Hayden Panettiere makes up for any linearity, and if clarification is needed: Until Dawn is way past any Telltale game as far as the action-to-consequence ratio goes.
Grab the game if you own a PS4. A prequel, The Inpatient is slated for a November release.
It's obviously a design choice by Telltale to keep their games as linear as they do. It could be because that's how they want it to be, it could be because of short development cycles, or it could be both. Or neither. And it's fine if that's how they choose to proceed; most people don't play as many of their games as we do, and odds are they wouldn't even notice the patterns of linearity. It's getting a bit samey for us is all.
Until Dawn is great if you like horror (and own a PS4), but Life is Strange should be a must-have for any reader of this site. The story is excellent, and the crazy branched butterfly-effect-heavy gameplay is integrated into it in an admirable way. Life is Strange is a Mojo Recommended™ game for sure.