In the third episode of Dontnod Entertainment’s teen time drama Life is Strange [official site], everything changes. Now that the episode has been out in the wild for several days, Pip, Adam and Alice gathered to discuss the temporal wobbles and rocky relationships.
If you haven’t already played, avert your eyes – there are spoilers right up to the final moments.
Pip: WOAH. That was my main reaction. And then there was a bit more in the way of dissecting it and then also a concern. How on earth shall we even start with Episode 3?
Adam: Is starting at the end too obvious? Does the end overshadow the rest of it? I did a WOAH too but then I felt a bit disappointed because the WOAH wasn’t quite as satisfying as the little cry at the end of the other episodes. I’m not necessarily a WOAH person. I like it more after a couple of days’ thinking and whatnot though.
Who wants to explain exactly what happens? Or what it means? Or shall I do it?
Alice: WOAH there, Nelly. Episode 3 sees Max larking about with Chloe, and I guess also gaining the power to travel way, way back to before she even had the power by focusing on photographs. The chaos theory everyone’s been muttering about for three episodes comes stomping through everything when Max’s stops Chloe’s dad from taking the car journey that killed him, rewriting history so he’s alive in the present and gasp oh gosh Chloe is not remotely a sullen punk but in a wheelchair.
Pip: That latter is the only part that’s making me a bit uneasy – like, it had better being going somewhere considered with this reveal rather than it being treated as a shock tactic, you know?
Adam: I seem to remember we felt like this about certain aspects of Episode Two. Not exactly the same but there’s a nagging concern that some of the dramatic events are there for shock and drama, but don’t have any impact beyond the WOAH factor. And as I did last time we talked about Life is Strange, I’m going to make it clear right away that I’m really enjoying it and think it’s pretty goddamn great because I’ll probably sound like a huge grump at times here.
It doesn’t help that chaos theory plus Big Bad Butterfly Fuck Up reminds me of that Ashton Kutcher film, which I really really intensely dislike. But I also disliked the parts in that film where Ashton was larking about – I love the larking about in Life Is Strange. I’d definitely be playing it if the time travel and shocks weren’t there. It does good character.
Pip: Yes it does. I’d also like to register my enjoyment of and affection for Life is Strange – particularly the characterisation. It’s the only game I can remember playing where I recognise a significant part of myself in the characters. It’s a mixture of Chloe and Max but it’s something I’ve never had in a game before. Certainly not on that indie teen girl level.
Alice: Pip and I still haven’t settled which of us is the Max in our friendship and who’s the Chloe.
Pip: Although I did have an unfortunate moment while playing where I realised that the outfit of Rachel’s which Max was borrowing was pretty much exactly what I was wearing at that moment. Red plaid shirt, black skinny jeans. How embarrassing.
Adam: I am definitely a Max. And typing “a Max” makes me imagine horrible Buzzfeed quizzes about which character we all are. Nobody should be a Warren. In fact, I don’t want to be any of the guys and I don’t think I’m like any of the guys. But I’m enough like Max that I was offended in a doofy sort of way when Pip trashed Max’s lovably dorky series of fuck-ups early on. That was before she actually fucked up the continuum of time – at this point, it’s not loveable anymore. Spilling Every Drink is fine. This is a disaster.
Alice: In Episode 5 you take one of those oh-so-rude peeks at Warren’s computer, and his Fauxcebook page is full of rants about ‘the friendzone’.
Pip: I keep trying to cold-shoulder him but it feels like that’s one aspect of the game where Dontnod just won’t let me. I’ve been ignoring his come-ons but then there was no option to not let him hold you at the end of Ep 2. At least he’s gotten with that other girl when you’ve fucked the timeline good and proper.
Alice: I suppose that’s butting about against a constraint of what’s a pretty defined character. That’s such a Max thing to do. Whoever Max is now, in her new life as part of the Vortex Club. Not a person or a life she’d recognise, I wouldn’t think. Who’s anyone anymore? Chloe seems happier and that’s probably good and yet…
Pip: Should we go back a bit? That might also give us a chance to assess how we feel about Dontnod’s ability to deal with the fallout from shock events too, given Episode 3 picks up as everyone is trying to deal with either the suicide or the attempted suicide of Max’s classmate, Kate.
Adam: I think the tension in the storytelling is that Kate’s story is doing two separate jobs – it’s a thing in and of itself, but it’s also a method by which we’re exploring the limits of Max’s powers and ability to influence the world (with and without those powers). Obviously that’s how every beat of a story works to an extent but I do feel that Life Is Strange is doing two things very well but failing to convince me that they need to touch each other.
I could spend lots of time thinking about the implications that the extended powerset has – with the journey into a photograph at the end of the episode – and that’s interesting and fun, but I’m not sure if it adds to my understanding or appreciation of the actual mysteries or mundanities that I’m enjoying for the bulk of the time that I’m playing. I’m not saying that it has to for the game to succeed but I don’t feel that everything hangs together as well as I’d like it to.
Pip: I really liked that Max spends time thinking about what happened with Kate and whether she deserves the “hero” label (Kate lived in mine) and that other characters are affected – the principal drinking, for example. Something that’s bothering me a little right now is that I don’t remember seeing Kate in that montage at the end of Ep 3 now that everything’s changed and so does that mean whatever you did on the rooftop is somehow meaningless at this point?
Adam: Maybe I’m thinking about this all wrong but I have been assuming that there’ll be a pretty rapid reboot to the original (?) timeline in episode 4. I don’t see the big switch lasting for very long.
Alice: I suspect we’ll stick around long enough to feel dreadful about wanting the old timeline and our old friend back.
Pip: I already do – I really miss blue-hair Chloe. She was my friend. But also so broken and with her dad killed so I feel selfish for wanting the old timeline back.
Alice: Max confides to NuChloe “I have a gift: a magic power that will murder your dad, get you kicked out of school, and saddle you with a paranoid step-dad.”
Adam: I bet he is a better busdriver than he is a security guard.
There’s another whole thing going on as well – the apocalyptic stuff. Part of me expects to find out that Rachel was another incarnation of Max torn across timelines and that they’ve been meddling for so long, looping in and out, that everything is collapsing around them. And whales. And dead birds. Because. There’s a heck of a lot happening and I can’t decide whether I like that there’s still time for swimming pools and quiet or whether that’s just punctuation in a sci-fi story I’m going to end up confused and slightly irritated by. I guess it’s good that I’m happily trundling along toward whatever the end might be.
Alice: The Disaster is the third wheel to me. Almost everything we’ve done has been about friendship and small-town mystery. Every now and then Max mentions “Oh, I suppose a hurricane’s coming Tuesday?” then we get back to hanging out in her room. I assume The Disaster will work out fine in the end, so whatever.
What happens to the people is far more interesting to me. The Disaster could not be in the game at all and I wouldn’t miss whatever narrative purpose it serves – the mystery of Rachel Amber has so much more heart, and whatever’s going on with this new timeline (and the power freakout in Episode 2) warns about meddling.
Adam: The Hurricane is adulthood and the end of innocence. Or Warren’s eventual hard-on (also the name of a very passable math-rock band). I’m looking forward to the next episode more than any of the others so far because the title alone makes it seem like it’ll move the Rachel mystery along. That is what I want.
Pip: Have any of you been digging into the fan theories?