Monday, February 15, 2016

Lauren on Life is Strange, 1.3 Chaos Theory - Video Game Review

photo from Steam


Beware: here there be spoilers.

Life is Strange, episode three, "Chaos Theory,” begins the same day as episode two. Night has fallen on a school shocked by the attempted suicide (if you’re lucky) of Kate Marsh. Students are rethinking their behavior toward Kate during the past few days, and Max is sneaking out.

The events of the day have (somehow) convinced her and Chloe that there is a connection between what happened to Kate and Rachel Amber’s disappearance, so the two of them break into the principal’s office and go through his files, looking for clues, though what the clues are for is not really clear.

After deciding whether or not to steal five thousand dollars from the school, the girls decide to break into the school’s swimming pool and take a dip, leading to an irritating game of cat-and-mouse with the school’s security guards. This section of the game was pretty week since there’s relatively little forward motion on the story and almost no character building to it. I personally felt that it was just so the developers could get the girls in their underwear, and when I showed the section to a friend, she concurred. The whole swimming bit just seems like fan service for the boys who might happen to play the game – a disappointing turn for a game with so much emphasis on female characters with agency and important relationships.

 
photo from lifeisstrange.com


The next part of the episode plays out in the Price house where Chloe takes some heat from her mom so Max can sneak into the garage and snoop through David Madsen’s (Chloe’s step-father’s) things for more of those nebulous clues. When she gets back inside, he arrives home, tired and grumpy from a night of trying to chase down the students who broke into the school’s pool. Max is then faced with the choice of backing Chloe’s vitriolic (but not unfounded) attack on her stepfather, or trying to smooth things over. Either choice will still lead to a fight with Chloe and the revelation that she’s angry with her biological father for getting into a car accident and dying.

And here I found myself wondering what on Earth the game was up to (in a good way). Unhappy Max finds herself staring at the last picture of herself and Chloe together when they were happy and carefree. And suddenly, Max is five years in the past, watching the last day of Chloe's father's life unfold, but this time, she's got the power to change it, and she goes for it with the confidence that it's what Chloe would want.

But there are always consequences and the change Max made has had big ones. She didn't just change Chloe's life, but her own as well. When she snaps back to the present, she finds that she's in a totally different group at school. She immediately goes to see Chloe and finds out just what she's done. Chloe's dad is alive, and Chloe is paralyzed, wheelchair bound, and dying of respiratory failure.

photo from lifeisstrange.com


 The game sticks faithfully to the imagery it had established for Max and Chloe, and capitalizes on the connection to the natural world that's been a big part of the weirdness going on in Arcadia Bay. Throughout the episode, dead birds are strewn everywhere, a good sign that something is terribly wrong. After Max changes the timeline, a pod of whales beaches itself in the harbor.

While it's a logical fallacy to assume that an event occurring after another event must have been caused by the first event, it seems pretty likely that Max's meddling is the cause of all the weirdness.

I have a terrible feeling that everything Max does is only making things worse and that the game is going to have to cycle back to the beginning, where Max will have to choose not to interfere in Chloe's death. This is me making a prediction. I think I'm worried because I'm starting to like Chloe. In fact, she's the character I like best in the game despite her volatile temperament. It might have to do with the fact that she's the best voiced character in the game (in my opinion) as well as the most fleshed out. My favorite characters always die, though, so Chloe is in grave danger!

 
photo from lifeisstrange.com


Since we just passed the halfway point in the game, I thought I'd do a quick list of my likes and dislikes:

I like:
Chloe - she's kind of a jerk, but she's interesting and is stuck in a really sucky situation, so there's a lot of room for growth and change here.
Warren - He's a smart and genuinely sweet guy who likes Max, and is respectful about it. He doesn't creep on her the way a lot of love interests do to a female protagonist (unintentionally perhaps) in other games, books, movies, and TV shows.
The mechanics of Max's time travel - it works nicely for the puzzle-solving aspects of the game, creating some fun game-play, like blowing up, and then un-blowing up the principal's door.
The themes- I mean this both broadly (friendship, pursuing one's dream, etc) and really specifically, like the doe being associated with Max, the color blue, and the blue butterfly, with Chloe, and the destruction of nature progressing through the episodes.
The mix of regular and extraordinary - I like the way the kids are concerned with the social and practical problems of being in high school as well as the troubling vision of ultimate destruction that Max had and the out of the ordinary trouble that Chloe found herself in.

I dislike:
Max - she's inconsistent, makes terrible decisions, isn't well voiced, and we would never be friends (alas!).
Long, pointless cinematics - there are weird scenes in the game, especially when Max is waking up, where I have no control of the game, but nothing is happening. I find these moments frustrating because I'm being shown that nothing is happening, but I can't do anything to get things started.
Big decisions that come to nothing - Since the timeline was reset, nothing I chose matters now. Unless Max puts things back again in a future episode, all agency that I was given meant nothing. Before this, not seeing the consequences of choices was at least understandable, because certain things were sure to play out in the future.
The choices - actually, despite having choices like turn in or don't turn in Nathan Prescott, there are a lot of places where things happen that I would have liked to choose anything else, like breaking into the swimming pool. Being forced into something that stupid made me grumpy. I realize that the writers are trying to tell a story with some accompanying game play, but there are moments when I think they'd have done better just to make a movie since they're forcing certain things anyway.
The dialogue - and this is the biggest one for me. I sometimes get the feeling that whoever wrote the lines didn't really know the story that well. Things like David Madsen calling the high school a college, put me off. As far as I know, the terms aren't interchangeable. The way lines seemed stitched together so that statements wouldn't fit together. This was really bad in the scene where I had to talk Kate off the roof. One line from Max seemed to have convinced her to live, and then Max suddenly reverted to begging Kate to come down, and Kate made statements that contradicted things she'd just said. It definitely tarnished an otherwise powerful moment.

Click here to see the previous episode.
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