Having just come off the deep end and finished the 5th and final episode of the series, I felt like I needed to write a few words about it, just to get it all out. Spoilers ahead so maybe look away until you’ve played it for yourself.
I know the word “visceral” gets thrown around by games journalists nowadays, especially when it comes time to review the big triple A titles that give you the adrenalin rush of being the big, macho, space-marine or super-powered wizard knight that saves the world from some unspeakably evil menace. But I realized after playing Life is Strange that I hadn’t played that many visceral games before. Something that touched you so profoundly on the inside that it could only be described as such.
Perhaps I’m giving it too much credit but the relationship between Max and Chloe (the protagonists) was more visceral to me than any alien invasion or mad dictator I’d encountered in a game previously. There’s a lot to be said about a game that can center on the friendship of two young women, particularly when the industry is renowned for its male-oriented audience. Life is Strange may have its supernatural quirks but most of them only facilitate the story, focusing on Max and her rekindled friendship with Chloe on her return to Arcadia Bay.
At first, Max feels guilty for abandoning her friend for so long and every time Chloe is in danger she instinctively jumps at the chance to save her, rewinding time again and again, no matter how painful or destructive. In the end, it becomes clear that the ensuing chaos that engulfs Arcadia Bay, including tornadoes, beached whales, solar eclipses and dead birds is caused by Max rewinding time in order to save her childhood friend. Even when Max changes the fate of Chloe’s father, she creates a timeline in which Chloe is in a car accident and is slowly dying of total body paralysis and asks Max to end her life.
It becomes so obvious that Chloe’s fate is one she cannot change that she herself, asks you to just let her go. This brings you to the final and most difficult choice of the game, sacrifice Chloe or sacrifice all of Arcadia Bay.
It is a difficult decision.
I chose to sacrifice Chloe.
Ironically, shortly before this climax, Max returns to a time just before Chloe crashes a party looking for her killer. Max pours out her heart and soul, begging Chloe not to go in and asking her to let go and move forward. Almost like she’s speaking to herself. I felt that this was what the game had been leading me towards all this time, the moment when Max would finally be able to do this and live with it.
Life is Strange is an amazing example of video game narration. It tells a visceral story about letting go, accepting that bad things happen and that you may not be able to change them, no matter what you do. And above all, living with guilt even though it isn’t your fault.
I felt like choosing to sacrifice Arcadia Bay represented clutching at old memories so tightly that everything around you fell apart. Perhaps it would have been a happi-er ending but there definitely is no ‘happy’ ending.
I may not have had “fun” in the usual sense when I played Life is Strange but I really enjoyed it and I hope that everyone else who plays it does too. It’s a great example of what games can do as a visceral story-telling medium.