My first game review of the year is of one which came out last year and isn’t really a game in the truest sense – life is indeed strange.

Every so often something comes along that is a non-gamers’ game, offering a completely different experience from the norm or requiring skills not usually called upon much in games.

Life Is Strange, developed by Dontnod and published by Square Enix, is one such treasure that became something of a sleeper hit through the release of its five episodes during 2015.

Croydon Guardian:

If like me you’re playing catch-up you’ll be able to grab the previously downloadable-only title in a new boxed limited edition format from January 22, a release that should hopefully bring this interesting game to a new and even bigger audience.

Should you get chance to play it in one format or the other, Life Is Strange will be unlike anything else you’ve played in recent times.

The game takes the form of an interactive graphic adventure. Its episodic format makes it a bit like a TV series but instead of passively watching you get to have some influence over how the plot unfolds.

Central protagonist is troubled photography student Max who attends high school in the fictional American town of Arcadia Bay. On witnessing the murder of a girl, who turns out to be an old friend, Max discovers she has the power to manipulate time. Initially she learns she is able to rewind events by a short time which allows to create different outcomes, but later she finds she can go further by being transported back to the moment certain photographs were taken.

Croydon Guardian:

As Max becomes embroiled in investigating the mysterious disappearance of another girl and as bizarre happenings start to grip the normally tranquil town, the game soon becomes full of choices such as what actions you want to take in tough situations, which objects to interact with, which characters to speak with and how to respond during conversations.

With choice come consequence. While you might not feel it at the time, many decisions have an effect later on, with the butterfly effect being a recurring theme. There is a core story arc but the details are determined by your judgement calls. A nice touch comes at the end of each episode when you can see the percentage scores for how other players reacted at key moments, imagining the alternative scenarios they encountered as a result of their choices.

Croydon Guardian:

There is a lot of teenage angst in Life Is Strange, but if you can look past this there is a fine thriller at the centre of it. It’s a story full of suspense, suspicions and surprises that twists and turns along the way.

One of the standout features of the game is how emotionally charged it is. There are some really intense, unsettling and tragic scenes that have made their mark on me at the time and lingered in my mind for days afterwards. Many of the choices in the game are fairly trivial, others are more profound and will leave you feeling like you’re in an agonising no-win position.

There are light moments but the game certainly isn’t afraid to tackle discomforting subjects such as bullying and suicide. A euthanasia scene was particularly haunting.

Croydon Guardian:

Life Is Strange often blurs the lines between right and wrong and good and bad, stretching your morality and putting your intuition to the test.

The main objective in Life Is Strange is to enjoy being along for the ride rather than to score points or rank up. In this and various other ways it differs greatly from most other games. However, there are still some more conventional gaming elements within it - and they are a mixed bag.

Puzzle-solving is the best of these, with some environmental challenges that involve using Max’s time-tweaking powers to cause distractions or dodge dangers. Other parts are less interesting - some stealth segments are gruelling trial-and-error affairs while fetch quests such as finding five glass bottles around a junkyard are just tedious and seem designed only to pad the game out.

Croydon Guardian:

Other bits of the game are similarly hit and miss.

Visually, it is mostly a treat – beautiful, striking, poignant (aided by a laidback acoustic soundtrack) – but facial animations of the characters aren’t amazing, which can be slightly distracting.

The character performances are generally strong but the actors are saddled with some really cringe-worthy dialogue at times.

And the ending … this is not so much hit and miss as it is hit or miss. Certainly, it’s divided – or polarised, to borrow the name of the final episode – opinion among the players who have reached it so far. I must admit not being completely satisfied with either of the two ultimate options that are available.

Croydon Guardian:

You’ll be able to find out for yourself what you think of it if you take up the opportunity to belatedly step into Max’s twisted world.

While there are a few missteps, overall Life Is Strange is well worth playing if you haven’t already. It’s one of the most powerful and engrossing video game experiences I’ve had in a good while.

Because of the potential consequences from Max’s actions, the game urges players to always ‘choose wisely’ – you’ll fulfil that by choosing Life Is Strange.

8 out of 10

Life Is Strange is available on PC, PS3, PS4, Xbox 360 and Xbox One - PS4 downloadable version played for review. Limited edition boxed version out on January 22