Before this year, people were always surprised when I told them I hadn’t properly played Life is Strange. That’s because it should have really appealed to me with its female protagonist and strong narrative, plus it’s one of those releases that everyone you know seems to rave about.
If you haven’t yet played Life is Strange and intend to do so, I’d recommend navigating away from this post now and coming back later. There are some spoilers in the following paragraphs which may spoil your enjoyment of the game.
But thanks to a complicated relationship with this game, it’s taken me five years to finally complete it. I didn’t pick up the first instalment when it was published in January 2015 because episodic games just aren’t for me and I’d wanted to wait until the whole title was available. But a house move and other adult responsibilities meant I didn’t get the opportunity until September 2017, when I then discovered that it wasn’t what I wanted from a gaming experience at the time and didn’t progress to the second episode.
From that point onward I had so many friends tell me I ‘really needed to finish Life is Strange’. Their comments were intended to be helpful recommendations but weirdly they had the opposite effect. When a game is continuously hyped up, whether it be by the press or people closer to you, it makes me think that it’s too good to me true and then I’m reluctant to give it my attention. This is exactly what happened with Fallout 76 and Red Dead Redemption 2 (and look how they turned out).
But when our 50-day challenge for GameBlast20 took place earlier this year, I realised it was it time to let go of my apprehensions and give DONTNOD Entertainment’s darling a fair shot. I replayed the first episode on day seven, moved on to the second on day 42 and then finished the others during a week in March. After five years I’m finally done with Life is Strange and I feel a weird sort of achievement, even though I sadly missed the part with the giant squirrels in the window.
But that’s not to say I’m now in love with it and am going to start telling everyone to play it.
In my first post about the game in 2017, I mentioned that I hadn’t warmed to Max as a character. I’m afraid to say that’s still the case after completing all the instalments and she’s never going to make it onto my favourites list. It’s clear the developer designed her as a shy, introverted opposite to Chloe as having two strong protagonists may have been overwhelming for a title like this; but at times she was so frustratingly passive that it made me want to shake some sense into her. It’s only her powers that make her interesting.
And speaking of Chloe, I can’t claim to be a fan of hers either. There’s certainly more to her than Max, she didn’t grate on me as much and her scenes within Life is Strange are more enjoyable; but I’m still struggling to understand why so many gamers love her as much as they do. She’s obviously had a difficult upbringing and certain events have had an impact on her personality, but most of the time she’s just a rebellious teenager who wants to revolt against the world. Nothing new there then.
Now let’s move on to Warren. While streaming the game, the friends who joined us in chat told us that players hate him because they think he’s a ‘stalker’. I have several issues with this. Firstly, the nightmare sequence happens inside Max’s head and may therefore not be representative of Warren’s feelings; secondly, if it is in any way representative, surely the locker is more a metaphor for unrequited love; and thirdly, he’s wetter than a lettuce. There’s simple nothing to like or dislike about him, so those how hate him seem to be taking it a bit far.
Life is Strange is one those releases which falls flat if you don’t like the main characters. Everything hangs on the player making a connection with them because the narrative is so tightly focused on their lives and reactions to each other, even if the story implies that the villain will have an impact on the wider world. If you’re unable to form that relationship with your protagonists, you’re more inclined to not overlook the unbelievable set-up, gaping plot holes and inconsistent game mechanics.
Speaking of which, there’s one such hole that I must discuss here: the storm. At the very start of the first episode Max has a vision about a tornado hitting Arcadia Bay followed by further environmental disasters, and she mentions them to nobody other than Chloe and Warren (and the homeless lady if you make that decision). Then at the Vortex Club party when the teenagers see two moons in the sky, they all just pass it off as a freak event and carry on drinking. Hello, people – it looks like your world is about to end and this might be a good time to panic.
We were also told by our friends in the stream chat that some players consider the storm to be ‘Rachel’s revenge’ thanks to a line said by Chloe during episode five. Reading up about this on the internet reveals a whole host of theories about how Rachel Amber was able to control the elements using her emotions, and how Max’s powers may be a gift from her. This is all just too far fetched for me. It feels as though some people fell so in love with Life is Strange and its characters, that they then spent far too much time trying to plug the plot holes.
I now have absolutely no desire to play Life is Strange: Before the Storm. I don’t particularly care how Chloe and Rachel met or what their relationship was like before Max returned to Arcadia Bay, and I certainly don’t want to listen to them saying ‘hella’ all the time. I’m aware I could be giving the series a hard time though due to my reluctant reaction to hype as described above. If only I had the power to go back in time myself and play Life is Strange when it was first released, to see if my reaction to the game would have been different.
I’m also conscious of the fact that playing such a narrative-heavy title on stream, when your attention is split between what’s being discussed in chat and what’s happening in the story, may not have helped my negative opinions. That’s why one day I’d like to play Life is Strange 2 off camera to see if the experience is any different. Surely there must be something I’m going to like about the franchise, seeing as so many of my blogging friends keep telling me it’s one I should like?
That’s not going to be for a while though. I’m not sure my other-half could manage to go through another five-episodes of teenage angst right now.