‘Life is Strange’ is certainly strange. It’s the strangest game that I’ve ever sat though. It’s something that tries to merge together a lot of elements and somehow manages to fuck everything up at the same time. I won’t lie, I’m not a fan. I played through the first game when I had a YouTube channel and it’s still there if you want to hear my distain but if you can’t bring yourself to watch the whole game again, then stick around and I’ll give you a recap.
Released episodically in 2015, ‘Life is Strange’ follows the story of Maxine ‘Max’ Caulfield who has returned to her hometown of Arcadia Bay, Oregon to study photography at Blackwell Academy. One day, during a lesson, Max has a dream that she’s at a lighthouse and there is a big tornado heading for the town. When she wakes up, she goes to the bathroom where a wound-up guy, Nathan Prescott, comes in to meet a girl. In a fit of rage, Nathan shoots the girl dead and Max intervenes where she discovers that she has the ability to rewind time. As it turns out, the girl in the bathroom was Max’s childhood friend and tearaway, Chloe Price. The two strike up their old friendship and Max confesses that she can rewind time and realises that the storm she saw in her dream is real and will hit the town in five days. Over the five episodes, Max is dragged into conspiracies, abductions, alternative realities and murder.
Sounds good, right? Unfortunately, the actual experience is severely underwhelming.
You see, the game is trying to mix together time manipulation; adventure games and branching stories whilst wearing pretentious, arty graphics and all of it is taking place in some kind of ‘coming of age’ TV movie that appeals to teenagers and wankers who just want to fawn all over the characters whose personalities range from insufferable to blatant stereotype all the way down to completely non-existent. Oh yeah, and everything’s a metaphor.
It is such a shame because for a lot of the time, the gameplay is reminiscent of a detective game which I would be all over because I fucking love detective games but then one of the characters starts talking and I remember that I hate all the characters.
‘Pretentious’ really is the word. The game thinks it’s smarter than it is. The characters are a good place to start. Maybe ‘good’ is stretching it a bit.
Let’s start with Max. The game says that she’s 18 years old, but she sounds and looks about 12 years old and she’s got dialogue to match it. I don’t believe her when she swears. Swearing is a fine art, it takes finesse to really have an impact. When Max swears, I feel like she’s chucking out all those ‘F-Bombs’ just to impress the cooler kids so they won’t bully her anymore.
Oh yes, and she’s a massive hypocrite. Sweetheart, you can’t advocate for keeping surveillance cameras out of the academy because it infringes on privacy and then go about taking photos of people from a distance, snooping through other people’s dorms and their private stuff just because it helps your own agenda. The world doesn’t work like that.
Max’s main rival throughout the game is Victoria Chase who is rich and arrogant and resents Max because the script says that she has to, and she acts like a high-school bully. When I was playing, I honestly thought that this game was set in a high school since none of the characters seem to act like the adults they’re supposed to be. The game has clearly defined hate figures and over-characterises them in that way. Victoria Chase, Nathan Prescott and Chloe’s step-dad, David Madsen are the prime examples. We supposed to hate them because of the things that they say and because they oppose Max in some way.
One of the side plots running through Episode 2 is that Max realises that the nice Christian girl, Kate is being bullied by everyone but primarily Victoria because Kate went to a party hosted by Nathan Prescott whose Dad is massively rich and influential and Kate got totally smashed and started making out with a lot of people. This activity was filmed and has been placed on the internet for all to see. Max goes to see Kate and through the conversation realises that something more sinister is going on.
Kate was drugged and taken to a strange place, but she doesn’t remember much else. Because ‘Life is Strange’ follows the ‘decisions have consequences’ mode of storytelling, Max can either push to go straight to the police or hold off to get more evidence but either way, Max offers to help.
All of the characters are distasteful in some way but absolutely none of them compare to the absolute ear and arse-ache that is Chloe Price. Chloe’s main personality trait is that her dad is dead and she hates her step-dad, David who is a former army officer and current head of security at Blackwell. Chloe is also a pot-head, dresses like a punk, listens to indie bullshit and talks suspiciously like she was written by someone who thinks this is what teenagers sound like. In fact, all of the characters speak in this bizarre language which to me suggests that someone in their 40’s who has never spoken to a teenager has written their dialogue.
The fact is, and this was played out more in the ‘Before the Storm’ DLC, that Chloe is utterly self-serving and judgmental whilst demanding that everyone understand her pain in the process.
Her other ‘thing’ is that her best friend and possibly girlfriend, Rachel Amber went missing 6 months ago and what happened to Rachel coincides with what happened to Kate.
Episode 2 is the second worst of all the chapters as it’s frustrating for first time players as I found out. The sequence in the diner where Max must prove her powers to Chloe by telling her what she has in her pockets and then foretelling what happens to the other patrons in the diner. This was particularly annoying for me and took many tries because I have a terrible short-term memory and trying to remember everything that happened in a sequence that had to have been a minute long is more than my brain can handle.
I think Max thinks the same way because Episode 2 is when she realises that her powers have limits and she realises this at the most unfortunate moment and that’s when Kate throws herself off the roof of the girl’s dorm. Max uses every ounce of her strength to reach the roof and tries to convince Kate to come down. There is something in the dialogue options to get Kate to step down, but I fucked up and Kate ended up jumping.
I’m hard-pressed to find another reason for the inclusion of this other than the plot deeming it so. If Kate were to have, I don’t know, reported the people who plastered a video of her online to the Principal (because I’m pretty sure it’s illegal to video someone without their consent) or just flagged the video as online harassment and had the uploader blocked, then all this could have been avoided but then that would fuck up a future plot twist so nope, sorry Kate, that’s it for you.
Another thing that I found particularly funny was after the diner scene where Max and Chloe go to the junkyard where Chloe reveals that she’s a massive idiot and has stolen one of her step-father’s guns even though she told him that she’s anti-gun but she’s not so anti-gun that she can’t shoot five bottles in a junk-yard. Guess who has to get the aforementioned five bottles? Max. And they are so fucking hard to find. Anyway, once you’ve found the well hidden bottles, Chloe wants Max to help her aim at the bottles so she can shoot them. There’s one outcome where one of the bullets rebounds and hits Chloe square in the chest and Max’s only response is ‘Stupid gun!’. Really, Max? You’re going to blame the gun? Not the idiot wielding the gun?
This is actually a running theme throughout the game with the main character makes statements that are ‘suggestive’ at best. I mean things like when Max is the bathroom at Blackwell and she sees a poster advising students to get their flu shots and Max’s internal monologue states ‘Last time I got a flu shot, I got the flu. Fuck you’. Hmmm? Another is when Chloe’s mum, Joyce is about to make breakfast for Max and as Max is about to pick up the bacon, her internal monologue once again states, ‘I should evolve and become a vegan but… Oh, bacon’. Really? Evolve? I eat meat and (controversially) I drink milk too, does that mean I haven’t evolved? I’m offended. This game has offended me. Just kidding. I don’t get offended. But hey, Max, if you want to ‘evolve’ into a ‘higher being’ with weak bones, poor digestion and a severe vitamin deficiency, then carry on.
In Episode 3, Max discovers that her powers can extend to photographs. If she concentrates in a specific photograph, then she will be transported back to when the picture was taken and change certain events. The first time this happens is when she looks at a picture of her younger self and Chloe on the day that her dad died and Max stops her dad from leaving so his car doesn’t get hit by a train.
Max then wakes up at Blackwell and suddenly, she’s best friends with Victoria and David is a bus driver. Max goes to Chloe’s house and in this reality, Chloe’s dad is still alive and Chloe is paralysed from the neck down after a car accident. Episode 4 shows Max spending a day and a night with Chloe and the next day, Chloe asks Max to euthanise her. I had difficulty with this choice and spent ages agonising over it but relented and chose to accept her request. The choice doesn’t really matter because the very next action is Max going into the same picture of her and Chloe that started this whole fiasco and not doing anything about Chloe’s dad. He dies and the timeline is restored.
Through some frustrating detective work, Max and Chloe find ‘the dark room’ where they discover posed pictures of Kate and pictures of Rachel in the junkyard. Chloe and Max discover Rachel’s body and are positive that Nathan is responsible. They go to the Vortex club to try and warn Victoria but instead, she is named as the winner of a competition where she will go to San Francisco with the hunky teacher, Mark Jefferson.
I’ve mentioned him too late, but he ends up being the psycho who drugs girls and takes pictures of them to ‘capture the moment when innocence turns into corruption’. To the game’s credit, I didn’t suspect him until he came out of nowhere and drugged Max before shooting Chloe in the head.
Episode 5 is the worst of all the episodes as most of it means nothing and it has two shit endings. But first, Max is strapped to a chair by Jefferson in his dark room where he does the ‘James Bond Villain’ thing by explaining his evil plot. Jefferson didn’t kill Rachel but it was Nathan who is Jefferson’s assistant. Nathan was trying to mimic Jefferson’s work and accidentally killed Rachel with an overdose. In Jefferson’s mind, he’s not a killer. His process makes sure that no one is killed… except Chloe… and Nathan… and if you warned her about Nathan in the previous episode, Victoria. So yes, he is a murderer.
To get out of this situation, Max has only one choice which is to dive into the pictures that Jefferson has taken of her. She manages to get a hold of her journal and goes into the picture that she took at the start of the game. Max therefore changes the timeline. Jefferson and Nathan are arrested for the drugged and the murdering, Kate is alive and so is Chloe. Max wins the competition that competition that I haven’t talked about and goes to San Francisco with her Principal. There, she gets a phone call Chloe where she is told that the storm is still heading to the town, so Max goes back in time using her entry photo and ends up back in the dark room. She is eventually rescued by David and she goes to find her friend, Warren where she hopes to dive into a picture that he took with her.
After she gets the photo, she ends up being transported through various dream sequences until she ends up with Chloe at the lighthouse from the start. They see the storm heading for Arcadia Bay and Chloe has one last choice to make. The two realise that the storm was created because the original timeline was changed, I.E Max saving Chloe’s life in the bathroom in Episode 1. Chloe gives Max the photo that she took and Max can do one of two things; go back in time and let Chloe be killed so Arcadia Bay will be saved or stay in this timeline, let Chloe live and pretty much everyone in Arcadia Bay will die in the storm. I could hit that ‘Sacrifice Chloe’ option hard enough. Weirdly, they make a big deal about what a dramatic loss this is and yet, in the other ending (bear in mind that everyone is dead) things seem to be much happier. Chloe and Max drive through the wreckage of the devastated town and leave Arcadia Bay with the tone being that everything will be fine, and Max and Chloe will start a new life together. I simply don’t understand how an ending where everyone lives except Chloe can be sold as a ‘bad ending’.
Having said that, calling it a ‘bad ending’ might not be far from the mark. Again, this is the writers thinking that they’re smarter than they actually are. Whilst Chloe is dead, that also means that everything that the player has been through, the horrible characters, the sequences that don’t do anything or push the plot forward and appalling dialogue that deserves the only accolade of ‘could almost have been written by David Cage’, all of that may as well have not happened. There was literally no point. All that cringe was for nothing.
Also, I never understood this either, I get that saving Chloe at the beginning caused the storm but where did Max’s ability to rewind time come from? Presumably, in the ‘kill Chloe’ ending, Max is still able to rewind time but never uses it. Or it could be a metaphor.
To round off this review, it baffles me how people liked this glorified walking simulator. This thing has won awards, but my suspicion is that people liked it for the surface glance at modern issues like cyber-bullying and so on. No one wanted to admit that these characters are horribly written, incredibly cringe-worthy and just generally unlikeable. If you’re reading this and you liked the game then that’s great, all I’m saying is that I didn’t see what everyone else saw and found so heart-warming. I saw a load of inconsequential bullshit that was hyped until alien-lifeforms were waiting for its release and for me, failed to meet the high expectations.
However, the game did surprise me in one way in that I never thought I would hear the word ‘wowser’ outside of ‘Inspector Gadget’.