When I first played the game Life is Strange, I thought that I was seeing the pinnacle of a game with choice and consequence. So many choices, relationships that you foster, it all seemed so damn perfect. However, in this last episode, my faith has been shaken. Part of that is just how rushed the last third felt. Like they were trying to tie off loose ends. Which, to me, says that this game is going to have some plot-convenience that makes it so that there is only one ending. However, the other thing that has me worried is that I’ve seen a game that does it better. So much better. This game has set the bar for me, in terms of a narrative with choice that matters. It isn’t subtle about the nature of its choice and consequence system, but the number of different endings and different events that could have happened makes it so that you keep wanting to go back and find out what else could have been done. That game is Until Dawn.
Sorry, Dontnod, but these people took the formula that you are working with and took it to the next level. Not only do your choices affect who lives or dies, but it affects the relationships and personalities of the characters. Given the short time frame, the way that they are able to develop characters so well is pretty astounding. You can sink or save friendships based on your choices. You can lie to save a friendship that would be utterly destroyed by truth. You can abandon people that your character loves, or risk everything to save that person. The level of interpersonal connectivity is just amazing. And you get to see real results of those choices.
A great example – Chris and Ashley. By far my favorite two characters in that game, you can develop this relationship into romance, or choose to have her hate him. Which can end up killing Chris. You first start this relationship with some conversation options, showing that there is real romantic tension between the two of them. Then, she is strung up, along with Chris’ best friend, Josh. You have to make a choice on who to save. I chose her, and thus you see their relationship really growing. However, you get another chance. When the killer ties the two of you to a chair, with a giant saw overhead, they finally confront their feelings. However, you are again given a choice on who to save. You can either take the gun in front of you and kill her, or yourself. I chose to kill myself. It was kind of touching when she demands to save your life, that you give her that choice. I didn’t do that. Yet, when Chris goes to save Josh, she catches up with him at the door and kisses him. That relationship was developed by the choices that you made. It was your decisions that made that relationship work. It was the best in the whole game, in my opinion.
Let’s go to Life is Strange. I was under the impression in this game that there were two major relationships that you could either develop or let lag. The first was between Max and Warren. He’s a sweet guy. Part of me felt bad that I was going to eventually have to let him down. I was going to let him down easy. I thought that it would be at the “Planet of the Apes” marathon. There could have been this great discussion. Would have made for a sweet and uplifting conversation. The second relationship is between Max and Chloe. At least, I’m pretty sure that was a relationship that could be developed. The game kept giving me signs that that was an option. However, in the last episode, both relationships just get rolled over. No joke, Warren gets treated like an extra, and Chloe…well, I’ll get to my deal with that in a second.
In Until Dawn, your choices have real consequence in respect to the narrative as well. Your gathering of clues ultimately affects the way that the mystery plays out, and does have a real connection to who lives and dies. How the characters go into a situation can leave them more prepared for the events to come. Whether they moved a weapon, looked at certain clues and talked to characters about those clues. These things mattered. Meanwhile, in Life is Strange, you do much the same, but it all comes back to how things were handled in this last episode. Again, it felt like the game was trying to tie off loose ends. Like the deal with the “Everyday Heroes” photo contest. That was so rushed. It all was. There was this bit where Stella was jealous of Warren giving Max attention. Did they address that? Nope. There are a ton of things that felt glossed over or just forced to be fixed. Like the connections I made with Taylor and Courtney. Both of whom offered to give Max a makeover before the Vortex Party. I was kind of interested to see where these things went. However, these smaller things got lost in the plot.
The argument against what I am saying I can already hear, and I kind of agree –
Lucien, come on now! This game is so much smaller than Until Dawn. You can’t judge the fact that it has to cover things quickly. They only have five episode. And each one is roughly 5 gigs. That’s not a lot of space to tell a very rich narrative.
I do agree with that, to a point. But there are so many obvious places where the narrative should address things. Like the deal with Max going to the alternative timeline. In my playthroughs, I killed Chloe. Given that she was slowly dying, and I do believe in assisted suicide for terminal patients, I gave her a way out. It was such an emotional moment. Yet, when they get back to the first timeline, the game sees fit to say, “yeah, let’s just not talk about this.” Are you kidding?! Talk about a great emotional moment! Having Chloe confront Max about what happened. For Max to tearfully tell her the truth about what had been done, and for Chloe to realize how much power and how much fear her friend has. For her to see how much it is maturing her, way too fast. It could have been a great moment to confront their feelings. But that ties back in to what happens with Chloe.
Let’s go back to Until Dawn. In that game, you can have relationships die on the vine, when the people in said relationships die. Or, as with the characters Matt and Emily, the two can get separated and you never see how their relationship ends. Of course, Emily hates Matt for abandoning her, and I hate Emily, so I hope that he finds his way to a girl who won’t treat him like garbage. For real, fuck Emily. She’s SO annoying. But the game treats a situation where a character dies and makes it just part of how things go. I was accepting that Mike and Jess were never able to fix things between them. They were separated, and for the bulk of the game, I thought Jess was dead. The scene where she comes back is actually kind of surprising. Though, they gave her this insane turnaround for her character that is pretty damn depressing. She might have been a blonde bimbo character to start, but by the end, she is a tragic one, when you find out that this girl has lost some part of herself. A part she may never get back. The scenes where she is being interrogated by the cops at the end are so creepy.
The final minutes of Episode 4 of Life is Strange have Chloe being shot, in the face. I can’t go back. I can’t save her. There’s nothing that I could have done to change this outcome. So, all that relationship building that I have done went absolutely nowhere. Makes me feel kind of gyped. Like, seriously? I go through all that time to make sure that they are on the path to finding each other in a romantic sense, and the game just takes that away from me? How did I have agency in that? What choice did I have? I may watch Ashley get her head ripped off by a monster (it’s shown in a totem), but I have the ability to stop that from happening.
Games that treat choice like it matters have to be done with care. They can’t just shoe-horn in elements or just go out of their way to ignore or tie things off. Yes, Dontnod Entertainment has a very limited amount of space to tell their story. I get that. But they have created a game where every episode begins with the tagline – your choices matter. Choose wisely. That’s what they start the episodes with. Given the vast amount of choices that I have made, the direction of this narrative seems like it’s going to just ignore stuff out of limitations. For example – the “Handicapped Fund.” I was so certain that was bullshit. After all, an envelope stuffed full of cash in the desk of a drunk who has proven to be corrupt? That feel so shady, to me. But the game just glosses over that? If you are going to argue that they are too limited to address things, then doesn’t it stand to reason that maybe they should have taken the time to have a bigger platform? I don’t mind downloading something that is more than 4 gigs. That isn’t too much to ask, if the product is worth it. The last episode was so bare, in a lot of ways. Where it shined, it didn’t live up to the personal narrative that this series has been working to tell. I gave the episode a good score, and I meant it. However, this game could have been so much more, and it rightly should be.
The last episode is where it all comes to a head. I am worried that they are setting this up for one of those “it could only have ended this way” narratives. This wouldn’t be the first game to do it. Mass Effect 3 had many defenders who said that that was the case with that game. However, people like myself panned the ending (the rest of the game was awesome. It was the last third that was garbage. Let me make that clear) because of how bad it was, and how much it was just trying to wrap up the plot. Until Dawn has a plethora of endings. I am hoping beyond all hope that Life is Strange does too. Hopefully one where I can somehow save Chloe’s life, because I want my choices in respect to that relationship to mean something. The groundwork is there. The elements can be done. If it’s a little longer than normal, so be it. Dontnod, do NOT fuck this up!
Until next time, a quote,
“Expectation is the root of all heartache.” -William Shakespeare