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RPS Chat: Life Is Strange Mid-Season Thoughts

Time Teen

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Adam: I talked about the performances earlier, alongside the script, and I think that’s an important part of it. There’s the occasional piece of slang that doesn’t quite sound like it fits in the voice artists’ usual vocabulary, but I think the acting is good. And, unlike Telltale, Dontnod manage to convey subtle emotions with body language and facial expressions. It’s not all silent movie style over-emoting and flappy hand gestures.

One of the quieter moments, in the diner with Chloe’s mum, does a lot of work with Max’s frowns and little uncertainties. I liked that a lot. While I’m being positive, what have you particularly enjoyed? Apart from Chloe’s antics? Or, indeed, you could just talk about Chloe’s antics since we haven’t really delved into her punk rebel ways.

Pip: Chloe took more of a back seat this time because the Kate storyline dominated everything. I loved seeing her little hideaway though, with the trappings of this intense teen bond with Rachel. I also love her body language – she has this slight swagger, it’s a kind of bravado to cover up her uncertainties and it comes across really well. There was also a moment where she’s reclining on the bonnet of a rusted, busted up car, playing with a gun and Max makes this comment.

It’s something about how effortlessly relaxed Chloe looks and I think that’s right but that she’s also just got that liminal not-a-kid-not-a-grownup aura about her at that point. She’s a good balance of vulnerability, bravado, stupidity and warmth and I just want to make sure she’s okay.

Adam: Where does your frustration – if that’s the right word – with Max come in? Too hipstery, cutesy twee? I think she seems a good counterpoint to Chloe. They’d do well together, I think.

Pip: I find her bland. The choices I make with her don’t seem to hang together to form a proper personality and so I’m left with this do-good Mary Sue of a thing. I think it’s partly because I feel the game pressure me with some choices so I step away from things I suspect Max would have done in character because I’m trying to work with a system. Like, I don’t think she would have pointed out Mr Jefferson for blame in the principal’s office but that never felt like a real choice.

I also had a section on the roof when I was trying to save Kate where the dialogue offered some Bible verses along with a generic “God doesn’t like suicide” type statement. I happened to know the Matthew verse and it fit with the situation so I picked it but I don’t get the impression Max would have known it. Does that make sense?

Adam: Yeah. I’m interested in the Mary Sue author-insertion idea because in this kind of game, the main character is a sort of player-insertion vessel. I’ve never really thought of it in terms of letting the player be the best of all possible people in every situation but there’s an element of that with Max.

For me, the rest of the characters have enough of a suggested internal world, as well as a life outside the little scenes we see them in, to make me believe Max is only such a ball of sweetness because we hear her thoughts. There are moments when she feels forced – too knowingly innocent to believe in – but I find her sweet, particularly when she’s around Chloe. She has a need to impress her but is far too serious to just jump up and down, giving her a hug, which might be the most impressive thing she could do.

Speaking of working with a system though, what do you make of the timey-wimey stuff? I want it to do more than it is at the moment, in terms of tying into the regrets and worries of impulsive decisions. It’s a lovely tool from a design perspective but it’s also a beautiful thematic fit with the emotional stumbling of the setting. I don’t think the game is playful enough with that second aspect yet.

Pip: I’d like to see some implementation that’s not just about tinkering with the plot or the repercussions. I’d really like just a few opportunities for Max to do something lighthearted with it, and not at Chloe’s behest. I think that would make me warm to her. Nothing mean, because that would be out of character but just a bit more of the taking advantage of it stuff. In the first episode she basically uses it to cheat in class (although the game only lets you do so after you sit through the sodding thing a few times) and I’d like more of that.

I mean, being able to rewind time and get a do-over is like the biggest teen fantasy of all, right? Being able to repair all those embarrassing moments? I would have given a lot for that ability and I still would. I still get hot-faced thinking of minor teen things – bad makeup or tripping over in front of class. I’d really love it if maybe Max was just walking down the hall and slipped over in front of some cool kids then used her power to undo it. That would be really humanising, just doing things for the sake of alleviating the embarrassment rather than to manipulate people for game reasons.

Adam: She seems like a doofus. I bet she trips over all the time and then rewinds time while WE’RE NOT LOOKING. Constantly spilling drinks and taking pictures of her thumb. Speaking of which, I wish the photography and the time manipulation were related in some way – they seem like two separate features that could work well in combination.

Perhaps this is partly because I’ve become accustomed to the stylised and slightly crude graphics of Telltale games – which this is comparable to structurally – but I’m delighted by how beautiful Life is Strange is. I’m hardly setting the bar high here, but there’s an understanding of cinematography and blocking that’s on a par with a decent television show. That’s better than most games manage because they’re so often tied in to the idea of the camera as a player-proxy of some sort.

During the drive to the diner and during that whole scene in fact, there’s a lovely sense of place. It helps that it’s all lovely and Autumnal as well. Is it Autumnal actually? It feels as if it is in my memory but now I think that’s wrong. It’s very WARM at any rate.

Pip: It tends towards this golden afternoon light effect. They do actually discuss the time of year if you talk to a science teacher and she says it’s autumn, though. As someone who spends a lot of time on Instagram the constant Instagrammyness of the aesthetic sometimes grates but overall it’s a pleasant thing and taps into that teen hyperemotional sense.

I feel similarly about the camera stuff, although I feel like it might become more relevant as that photo assignment/competition plot point draws on.

Adam: Let’s declare some kind of semi-judgement on Life Is Strange SO FAR. For all my criticisms, I’ve been completely won over by it. I thought I’d find the slang and now-ness far too difficult to get along with, and it does occasionally hit a bum note, but I’m glad that it’s making space for this kind of conversation. And compared to its episodic adventure competitors, it’s setting a new standard in thematic and aesthetic terms.

If it does finish well – and that’s by no means guaranteed – I think it’ll be quite an important game as well as a good one. Not important in the sense that it’s doing anything particularly new – as you’ve mentioned here and in your review of episode one, it draws on all manner of existing material – but important in that it’s a fairly high profile game that is content to be a drama about these people in this place. With a bit of sci-fi time stuff. And the possibility of a silly conspiracy that undermines my entire argument.

BUT YOU KNOW WHAT I MEAN PROBABLY

Pip: I do. I feel similarly in that I like what it’s done so far and I’m glad to see this type of fiction and characterisation in a decent-sized release. I’m still really cautious because I’m worried that it might go full Fahrenheit. Is that a phrase? Like, it’s brought up all these situations which are rooted in real teen problems and it’s so far dealing with them in a way which seems – as you said earlier – sympathetic. If it suddenly says AN EVIL GUY AND A TIME GHOST DID IT that would be awful. That’s where I’m at with it – so far, so good, now don’t fuck it up.

Adam: In conclusion – more games about teenagers, less games about time ghosts.

Life Is Strange Episode Two is available now. You can read Pip’s thoughts on the first episode here.

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