This article will be a little different to most of my others. As I hinted at during my Life is Strange review I felt there were lots of aspects to that game that I couldn’t discuss in the spoiler free context of my review. So here I will take an in depth look at some of my key experiences and interesting questions that remain after playing this truly excellent game
DISCLAIMER: The following article contains major spoilers for Life is Strange, do not read this if you are planning on playing this game. If you want more information on the game, I’d recommend looking into my aforementioned spoiler free review.
(Find it here: https://nickpjenkins25.wordpress.com/2016/02/19/life-is-strange-review-spoiler-free/)
Kate- A Turning Point
Whilst I was about an episode and a half into Life is Strange, I was still wondering if the game was for me, it was clear it would deal with serious topics and contained incredibly well written characters. But I still had my reservations, I didn’t feel that invested. But little did I know that was about to change completely. Now the final part of the story in episode 2 revolves around Max’s attempt to stop Kate Marsh from jumping off the roof of Blackwell. Now sadly in my first play through of the game, I failed this and sadly Kate jumped to her death. I was certainly struck by this and felt a great deal of guilt regarding my actions. But as the episode progressed I began to wonder if Kate’s death was a scripted moment in the game, designed to always occur no matter what the player does. You may say that’s ridiculous in a game all about player choice, why would it take away a major choice from the player? But actually if you look a bit deeper it doesn’t seem quite so crazy and would fit the themes of the game. First and foremost being a very obvious example of how Max’s (and by extension the player’s) actions can have massive consequences. Secondly that despite her newfound power Max simply cannot save everyone. Either way as I was coming to the end of episode 2 I was beginning to come to terms with the events of that episode, then a get delivered an emotional punch to the stomach. When reviewing my choices for the previous episode the game informs me “You failed to save Kate”. I was so taken aback by this revolution I literally switched off my PS4 and sat as the realisation hit me about what I had done. Situations like this prove just have well-constructed the game’s characters and story is. In the likes of Assassin’s Creed, Grand Theft Auto and Call of Duty, you’ll kill countless hundred if not thousands of people. Why are people not effected in the same way? Those characters are deliberately designed to be little more than bundles of pixels with which the player forms no real attachment. So perhaps there’s a little bit more to it than the clichéd ‘video games desensitize you to violence/emotion’ argument.
Chloe’s Relationship With Rachel
This is an interesting area of discussion for the simple reason that we never see Rachel and Chloe directly interact we only hear about her through Chloe. But most significantly the game never explicitly states their relationship was a romantic one, but it certainly throws a great deal of evidence in the direction of that suggestion. The language Chloe uses to describe her throughout the game implies perhaps more than friendship “she was my angel”. Lastly consider the scene showing Chloe discovering Rachel’s body, she is utterly utterly destroyed. Admittedly it’s impossible to know how one would react to discovering a close friend had died, but yet again the strength of her response, to me at least, points to something a little more complicated.
Chloe’s Relationship With Max
Chloe and Max’s relationship is perhaps the most interesting as it is what the game revolves around. But even more so than with Rachel the game throws huge amounts of contradictory information so it is impossible to pin down weather they are merely good friends or perhaps lovers. I’ll shall now consider some of the evidence for both sides of the argument.
-Chloe clearly states she finds Mr Jefferson attractive, admittedly this merely could imply Chloe is bisexual, leaving the door open for a romantic relationship with Max
-Chloe’s response if you elect NOT to kiss her when given the choice- her reaction is much more normal, whereas if you do kiss her so is incredibly taken aback. However the latter may not mean she didn’t want it to occur merely that she never expected Max to do it
-The language in the exchange between Chloe and Max before the player makes the final choice, again the language and feeling involved her seems to go a little beyond good friends “You are my number one priority now” “You are all that matters to me” “Don’t say that.. I won’t trade you”
– (Credit to this theory goes to the Almost Better Than Silence Podcast, they’ll be a link at the end) During Max’s nightmare sequence in episode 5 Max imagines Chloe in a relationship with numerous characters, Warren, Victoria and others (once again raising questions about Chloe’s sexual orientation) If we take this to be a nightmare then clearly we are being shown Max’s fears. Thus I raise this question, does Max fear Chloe being in a relationship with someone else because she wants that relationship?
-Max’s lack of commitment to Warren/The limit to which the player can ‘romance’ Warren- The game makes it very clear from the start that Warren has feelings for Max that Max doesn’t share, the evidence is numerous. When pushed on the issue by Chloe, Max’s response is merely that he’s ‘nice’ and little more. Furthermore Max is puzzled as to why Warren would wish to keep a photo of him and Max. Lastly even if the player chooses the positive options with regards to Warren (ignoring the final choice for the moment) then all this develops into is the option to kiss Warren during their final meeting. But firstly there seems to be little passion here on Max’s part and seems more done out of pity/ because they were about to possibly die. Secondly it is possible to not even have the option to do this, depending on earlier choices made. All this also means we are given no concrete answer regarding Max’s sexual orientation either.
You well may be wondering, why is the game so ambiguous about the relationship between the game’s central characters? Well honestly, I think the answer to the question is told to us numerous times, in the opening paragraph of each episode: We are told this is a game about player choice. That’s exactly what the game is doing here, it’s given us the choice to perceive their relationship as we want. Honestly I think this was a very smart move by the developers, with such deep and relatable characters involved, to force Max and Chloe to be one or the other would be very likely to anger and upset people.
Alternate Timeline Chloe- A Personal Connection
The end of episode 3 and continuing into episode 4 Max discovers the terrible consequences her powers can cause. After unexpectedly being thrown back in time many years, she resolves to save Chloe’s biological father William from dying in a car accident. She succeeds in doing this, but is shocked to discover in this alternate timeline that Chloe herself was in a car accident leaving her paralysed and confined to wheelchair. This was undoubtedly a shocking and thought provoking period of the game for all players. But for me personally it hit home that bit more, for those who don’t already know this I too use a wheelchair. Whilst I am nowhere near as seriously affected as Chloe, my mobility is still limited and I rely on a wheelchair in my day to day life. Going through this part of the game really made me reflect on my own life and looking back I’m staggered that the writers found areas I related to. Firstly, like it or not and people will never directly admit this, but people look at me differently. Not just for the obvious reasons but because my situation naturally raises questions, and they often feel too uncomfortable to ask. (I’d like to say here, if you do ever meet me, don’t feel uncomfortable, come say hi! for me personally I’m happy to answer any question you like. I won’t be insulted by it, you just have to ask.) Secondly there really are times when life can suck, little things get at you and it can be tough at times but honestly I just feel it’s part of the hand I’ve been dealt and it’s my job to deal with it. So in this case Life is Strange deserves special praise for two reasons, first it dared to go quite deeply into a subject that most video games wouldn’t go near. Secondly it has changed how I view video games, never before has a game made me reflect on this aspect of my life before. Hence why I’ve never felt the need to reveal it until now. As cliché as it may sounds I often use video games as a sort of escapism. If I’m having a rough day I’ll stick Uncharted in my PlayStation so for a little while I can be the dashing action hero that saves the world and gets the girl. Trust me, anyone that knows me even slightly knows my life is not anything close to that. (See, making light of my situation is a key way to get through stuff)
Max’s Nightmare- The Power of Emotional Storylines
Episode 5 finds Max on a journey through the many realities she has created through her choices and decisions and perhaps even a journey through her own subconscious. This segment has no official title but the fandom has come to referring to it as ‘Max’s nightmare’ and given the dark and twisted nature of it, it’s not hard to see why. But enough context, why am I discussing this? Well the segment contains a rather aggravating stealth segment and I spent more time there than normal as I believed you had to spend a great deal of time collecting the bottles scattered around. The truth is you don’t really, it merely unlocks an achievement. Long story short, despite the dark and emotional nature of episode 5 I was getting really rather frustrated with this one section and I was feeling pretty angry. But as soon as the segment ended, Life as Strange delivered a masterstroke, as soon as I entered the lighthouse I jumped to the other end of the emotional spectrum, once again the game had got me right in the heart. Those scenes are truly harrowing perhaps most of all the twisted messages that appear on your phone. Most chilling of all, if you chose to help Chloe die in episode 4, you’ll be informed by Chloe’s mother that she has proof of what you did and that there’s no reality in which you can hide. Needless to say here began one of my defining gaming experiences, as I shall now explain
The Final Choice
The game’s final choice is startlingly simple:
Sacrifice Arcadia Bay
Look at the language used here, it would seem more logical to use the word ‘save’. So why not do so? Personally I think it’s all about connotations, the word save has a much more positive feel to it, but the developers clearly didn’t want us to tackle this terrible decision and feel positive about it. A subtle thing, but it makes all the difference, this game gets in your head.
Anyway next I’ll take you through my reasons for picking the first of those two options:
-Logic: Chloe is just one person, whilst the population of Arcadia Bay is never stated we can estimate it to be tens if not hundreds of people
-A Perfect Week: During Max and Chloe’s final interaction, Chloe talks of how perfect the last week had been. If you allow Chloe to die then those moments can never be spoilt. However given that the other option has Chloe and Max driving into the sunset. Imagine this, they drive off and then their relationship collapses. We’ll never know if this would happen, but it’s certainly an interesting thought
-It fits thematically: The game repeatedly tells us that our actions have consequences. I somewhat feel that but saving Chloe you are essentially saying your actions have consequences unless Chloe is involved that is. Thus limiting th emotional impact of previous choices in retrospect
The end of episode 4 presents the cliff-hanger of Chloe shot dead and Max now unconscious. After getting over the shock of this reveal I began to rather cynically think ‘Oh dear they are going to deus ex machina a way to keep Chloe alive and give everyone a happy ending. But importantly the game sidesteps this convention. Even if you choose to save Chloe, this is far from a happy ending you’ve doomed a large number of people to death. But these aren’t just any people, like I mentioned earlier the residents of Arcadia Bay are not one dimensional collections of polygons. They are people that you create a strong emotional bond with and you’ll genuinely mourn their deaths. It is because of these facts and an incredibly poignant set of final scenes that meant for the first time I can remember: a video game had me in floods of tears.
My experience with Life is Strange will not be leaving me anytime soon (my recent tweets will attest to that) and frankly I’m a better person for playing it. Not only would I recommended playing the game but try and play it in the shortest span of time possible. When the game first came out there was a wait of months between episodes meaning it’s tough to keep up and be as emotionally invested. Whereas I got through the game in about four days and it meant everything was fresh in my mind and those big scenes had the emotional impact they should have
If you have enjoyed reading this piece, I’d let to point you in the direction of a couple of podcasts, if you want even more Life is Strange related content.
First is the previously mentioned Almost Better Than Silence podcast, they had an entire episode dedicated to an in depth discussion of Life is Strange.
Find it here: http://almostbetterthansilence.com/2015/11/abts-066-life-is-spoiled/
Secondly my good friends over at the One Track Gamers podcast, were very lucky to recently interview the fantastic Hannah Telle, none other than the voice of Max Caulfield herself. She is able to give some very interesting and personal insights into working on the game.
Find it here: https://onetrackgamers.wordpress.com/2016/02/23/one-track-gamers-podcast-episode-60-life-is-fun-with-hannah-telle/
As always you can find me on Twitter @AnotherGmgBlog