This is a full disclosure discussion of Life is Strange, so…here be spoilers!
While everyone’s staggering out of the vault, eyes dazzled by the sun and lips seared by the desert wind of Fallout 4, I’ve been finishing Life is Strange. Well, that was weird. If you watch my final let’s play video, I look slightly confused by the end because it was such a non-event.
Time travel stories are difficult. We all know that. It’s hard to get a good one that doesn’t contradict itself or unravel by the end, so I’m not sure why I expected Life is Strange to break the mould. Let’s just say, it didn’t, but it doesn’t matter.
Life is Strange in a nutshell…
Photography nerd and awkward, shy girl, Max moves back to her home town to study. One day Max discovers that she can rewind time, when she saves her childhood friend, Chloe, from being shot. Over the course of the game, Max repeatedly uses time to save Chloe and navigate through awkward social moments. Every slip back in time has consequences, which manifests as a giant tornado that comes to blow the town of Arcadia Bay away. Oh and there’s a missing girl sub plot, which Max and Chloe investigate together.
Here’s what went wrong…
I was hooked on the story of Life is Strange. I wanted to see how things worked out with queen bitch, Victoria, or Warren, the boy who holds a torch for Max. And then there was the ambiguous lesbian relationship between Chloe and Max, which I was expecting to go somewhere by the end.
The failed Max, Chloe, Warren love triangle…
Let me first hold my hand up and say, I did kiss Warren, when given the chance to kiss, hug or walk away. It was the end of the world, we could all die and I hadn’t really given the guy a chance, so I kissed him.
I’ve since read that if you kiss Warren, you don’t even get the option to kiss Chloe. This is how it played out for me, which is a bit disappointing. There seems to be no room to be bisexual in Life is Strange, even though the game plays with ambiguity all the way through.
Even when I save Chloe for the last time, I don’t get a kiss for my trouble, as we drive off into the sunrise, which seems odd, to say the least. If I take the sacrifice Chloe ending, we kiss in a tragic lesbian love affair way, but in the happy ever after, together, ending we don’t kiss, which just doesn’t make sense and sits uneasily.
Really long, cheesy dialogue…
Even though we didn’t get a big love triangle showdown or even any mention of the fact that Max has two admirers and may need to choose, we do get lots of chit chat.
As Episode 5 rolls on, Max has long dialogue sequences with almost every key character. First we get the Mr Jefferson scene. So Max is bound and drugged in the ‘dark room’ and we have to listen to Mr Jefferson’s evil genius bit, where he explains why he did it. And we’re treated to lines like “I always knew you were special”. Except none of it really makes sense.
Why did he get a teenager in his class to get him drugs, when he’s a famous photographer? And why is he wearing turn ups on his jeans in 2015?
Then we get a heart to heart with David, which isn’t too bad. The big scene is the one with Chloe, on the beach. She’s rambling on about how Max always saves her and how they’re meant to be together or something. By this point I’m thinking ‘cut to the good bit’ because I’m not feeling it and here’s why.
Tacked on chaos theory…
So, Arcadia Bay is in the middle of a serious weather event. There’s a tornado on the beach, whales and cars are flying through the air and it looks like everyone could die. There’s no screaming, no panic, no traffic jam, as everyone tries to get the hell out of dodge. Everyone seems to think, let’s go to the diner, right by the beach…with the TORNADO on it.
Max does her best to save everyone she meets, as she struggles through the wind and rain. Then she heads to the diner to get Warren’s photo – the only way Max can travel back for the last time and save the town.
Then Warren puts a spanner in the works by blaming the tornado on her. Wait, what? Yeah, apparently school science kid, who actually isn’t that good at science, somehow figured out that it was all Max. Even though he’s only just found out that Max can rewind time, he figures it out straight away. Because you know, time travel equals really bad weather. Everyone knows that.
Maybe if we just rewound time and killed the butterfly that landed on the bucket, in the bathroom when we saved Chloe, our troubles would be over. It’s the fricking butterfly, Warren, not me!
So Warren blames Max and she just takes it on the chin and then proceeds to go back in time anyway. Yeah, I know. It felt rushed and tacked on. I think we needed an extra episode to tie up all the lose ends or an epilogue, to give the story space to finish properly.
Predictable binary ending…
I forgot to water the house plant in Max’s dorm and I felt like a terrible person because the game had warned me that there’d be consequences. I saved that bird from smashing into the bedroom window, but I failed to save Kate, twice. I was nice to everyone, even Victoria and that annoying girl with the drone, but it was all for nought.
When it came down to it, Life is Strange Episode 5 had shades of Mass Effect 3. Five episodes of agonising choices, came down to two, predictable decisions. Save Arcadia Bay and everyone in it, except Chloe or save Chloe and everyone dies. Those are the choices.
Basically, everything we did before doesn’t count because I’ve either wasted time and energy saving Chloe or I’m slaughtering a whole town for a selfish notion of a maybe relationship. At this point, the Chloe/Max relationship isn’t even in serious flirting territory and I think she may have been in love with Rachel Amber.
It’s not as bad as the Mass Effect 3 ending and it’s also not the Indian burial ground theory that I dreaded coming to pass.
I didn’t save Chloe, the first time, because I found her mood swings and possessiveness just too much. I got a poignant montage of how things pan out if I don’t save Chloe from being shot in the bathroom. I go to her funeral and there’s closure. It’s sad, but nice.
The second time, I saved Chloe and immediately wished I’d saved the town. The final cut scene shows Max and Chloe driving through the town after the tornado strikes. It’s devastated, but there are no bodies and there’s no montage of the consequences and their future together, which makes that choice feel hollow. I don’t mind ambiguity, but this was just an empty shrug, like Dontnod said, we don’t know what happens or we don’t want to deal with it.
The fan theory goes that Dontnod wanted everyone to save Arcadia Bay. I’m not sure about that, but it does feel like the save Chloe choice wasn’t considered as thoroughly and they backed out of the happy ever after, lesbian ending.
Despite all this…
I still loved Life is Strange and I’d heartily recommend it to anyone. It’s one of the most emotional games I’ve played. It was at its best when we could just wander through school corridors discovering stories about our fellow students. Everyone had something they were going through, if you got beneath the surface.
I enjoyed the Rachel Amber mystery too, but I wish it had come to more than just the crazy Mr Jefferson and Nathan ending. And despite Chloe’s flaws, I did enjoy the intensity of her friendship with Max, which felt genuine.
Life is Strange is my gaming event of the year, so far. It tackled heavy subjects, such as teen sexuality, suicide and cyber bullying without preaching. It looked gorgeous, had a superb soundtrack and compelled me right up until the final hurdle.