Thursday, January 28, 2016

Lauren on Life is Strange, 1.2 Out of Time - Video Game Review

photo from Steam

Beware: here there be spoilers.

Life is Strange, episode two, "Out of Time," starts the morning after Max’s big adventure in time rewinding begins. Max wakes up after staying up late doing some research on time travel and has to start her day, going through a routine that hasn’t changed, despite her new powers. She’s still an eighteen-year-old, after all.

Her need for a shower puts her in contact with the other girls in the dormitory and she immediately finds a use for her power, rewinding moments and conversations so she can get the optimal outcome, letting her be a little heroic and play peace-keeper too.
The interaction with Max’s classmates also reveals that something is going on around a quiet student named Kate Marsh.

And here, the game really started grappling with difficult material. Oh, there were hints of it in the last episode: Chloe’s strained relationship with her mother, outright hatred of her step-father, and her missing best friend, Rachel Amber, but these hints primarily served to make Chloe a compelling, if not entirely likable character.

In this episode, however, the implications of sexual violence against Kate Marsh brought things to an uncomfortable level for me. This isn’t easy material. It also puts Max in a place she might once have avoided – does she get involved to help Kate, or back away from the situation in order to keep flying under the radar.

More than the mediocre voice acting and crummy dialog, Max’s willingness to run off and play with her powers at Chloe’s request broke the immersion for me. The whole time I was playing through an awkwardly contrived fetch quest in the junk yard and letting Chloe bully Max into doing her bidding, I kept thinking about Kate’s plea: “I need to find out if Nathan Prescott helped me… or hurt me after that party.” This is not something I could walk away from in real life.

photo from

Even while I was saving Chloe (twice) during the morning’s adventure, I kept wondering why Max would cling to someone who borders on emotional abusiveness and is suffering mainly from the consequences of her own actions when she had another friend in desperate need of support and reassurance, a friend who was drugged, filmed, and possibly even raped, whose pain was now being deepened by her sudden notoriety and the hasty judgment of her family.

Of course, I can remember being a teenager, lonely and anxious to be liked. I had a few people who pushed me around like Chloe does with Max, but I don’t see the same vulnerability in Max. Sure she wants to be liked, but she hasn’t shown signs of deep loneliness and need that usually go into a relationship like the one developing between her and Chloe – it just feels a little inconsistent to me.

I was relieved when Max finally got back to campus, and then saddened to see Kate’s plea for help rejected by the photography teacher.

The hopelessness and isolation of Kate’s situation really resonated with me, and I wasn’t sure how much more of Max’s hesitation to help her I could take when there was a call to the girl’s dormitory and I knew before Max got there what I would see.

I had to watch Kate throw herself from the roof twice before Max got herself in gear and made it up to the rooftop where her overused powers sputtered and died, leaving her (and me!) in a horrible situation with no take-backsies. If Kate jumped again, she would be gone for good.

The emotional burden of Max’s exchange with Kate, trying to talk her down from the edge, shows just what a good job the writers did setting the situation up. I could even appreciate what they’d done, having Max fritter her powers away earlier in the day doing things that had kept me somewhat frustrated.

Ultimately, I was lucky that I had paid so much attention to Kate. If her plight hadn’t been so important to me, I might not have had the information I needed to bring her down safely.

I don’t know if it was just me, but saving her didn’t give me a sense of relief or satisfaction. All I could think about was how close she’d come to dying, not because Max had spent all her energy earlier in the day, but because simple things that didn’t involve superhero skills hadn’t been attended to. This was powerful for me, and a little too much like real life, but I think it’s this power in the narrative that will keep me playing despite the bad dialog, the rough voice acting, and my own personality clash with Max.

photo from

Like Kate, I need to know if she was hurt at that party and if (as Max suspects) what happened to her is connected to the disappearance of Rachel Amber. And I need to know that Kate will be ok.

The game closes with a super unlikely event - an unscheduled lunar eclipse. Even with all the weirdness going on, this was a little much for me to buy. Unseasonable snow? Plenty odd, but it worked with the vision of crazy weather the game started with. Short of the apocalypse coming and all life on Earth ending, I have trouble with the idea that the moon itself moved in the heavens to give the people of Arcadia Bay a bad omen.

Still, certain themes seem to be carrying through here. Max's powers aren't the only weird thing going on, and nature has a big part to play in the imagery of the game. Max is still closely tied with the deer pictured on her t-shirt a second day running, and one even appears during her junkyard adventure with Chloe.

Chloe is even more tied to the color blue and, I suspect, to the butterfly Max caught on film in the first episode.

Rachel Amber’s disappearance is always at the edge of everything, suggesting a darkness at the heart of Blackwell Academy.

It will be interesting to see if they can carry these themes through all five episodes in t a meaningful way. In the meantime, I'd really like to hear some other thoughts on the outcome and content of this episode. If you've played it, please let me know what you thought!

Click here to see the previous episode.
Click here to see the next episode.
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