I know what people say. They see a few cut scenes or read a couple of lines of dialogue and write it off. It’s trying too hard, they say. Typical video game writing attempting to sound like it’s in touch with ‘the kids’. I’m not lowering myself to play that. I consume media that isn’t nearly as ridiculous. Something that tries to use the word “hella” is clearly beneath me and my sophisticated tastes.
They’ll never understand.
Those are the kind of people who would think twice about reaching out for you if you were hanging from a cliff. They didn’t spend the time to get past the opening ten minutes of the game or read it in a review or base their opinions on a meme so don’t bother saving their life if they’re ever choking on their crappy Coq-au-vin they put together after watching Masterchef. They have a sewage outflow where their heart should be and would probably think “Yeah sounds good!” if Adolf Hitler came back from the dead and ordered them to have a full-body Pepe The Frog costume surgically grafted to their skin.
I know all about hyperbole and that was a pretty lavish dose. But here my friends, it’s warranted because we’re talking about a game that is harsher than a knife between the ribs. More unforgiving than a terminal illness. A game that knows you better than you want to admit.
There are millions of stories out there about unrequited love but they’re asinine compared to what Life Is Strange does. On the surface, it’s about two young girls who reconnect to each other’s lives and change for the better and sacrifice and hesitant love and rad mixtapes and blah blah blah but what this game is really about is red raw murder of your soul. Even after the tears and hard choices and Foals songs and Polaroid photos, you wake up in a cold sweat one week later and think “Oh God, Chloe never really loved Max”. That’s the kind of harsh shove-your-head-right-through-a-window reality we’re dealing with here.
No matter what you thought, no matter what Max said, no matter how incredible that swimming pool sequence was: Rachel Amber was first and Max was second. Chloe would drop Max like a piping hot potato if Rachel ever came back from the dead. You know it and I know it. Even Max knows it. And that emotion is dripping from the fangs of Life Is Strange in every scene and every dialogue choice because it knows you’ve been there yourself. It knows you’ve felt it. Right here, in the pit of your stomach.
Life Is Strange doesn’t hold back in fear of judgement. Instead, it throws you to the ground and chokes your heart until it turns blue. Safe in the confidence that you will feel every last breath. Why? Because we’ve all been there.
Regardless of where we come from, what we believe in or what we’ve been through, everyone at some point in their lives has felt love for someone who hasn’t returned it in the same way. This isn’t just a lack of attraction I’m talking about – we’ve all felt that dream of a life with another person slowly being torn away from us. Even if it’s something you could never even consider acting on because of circumstance, distance or any other number of factors – the pain remains the same.
What if, right? What if that person felt the same way? Wow, could you imagine? Your life would change so fast that you couldn’t stop yourself from falling in and never coming back. That person is just so cool and smart and interesting and they totally get me and oh sweet lord, was that flirting? Is that what they we’re doing? Oh my god, what if it was. What if.
These days, the Australian Classification Board looks for drugs as incentives in video games, but they should have looked right here for causing emotional carnage. Life Is Strange wades knee-deep through your blood until you submit to it and remember all the mistakes YOU made as a human being. It might take days, months or years for this feeling to arrive but when it does, it’s like your rib cage suddenly got covered in barbed wire and a black lesion of despair has clamped onto your brain.
You know that feeling you get every few months when you think about that choice you made which set in motion what your life has become now? Not the ‘whoops I was late for the train I guess I’ll keep this brown hair because I’m Gwyneth Paltrow’ feeling, I’m talking about that real hard stuff you don’t want to admit to yourself. Yeah, you know what I’m on about. Chloe and Max make you stare at it. Remember it. That span of time when you were young and silly and wanted something that you were too innocent to realise you could never have. Back before you discovered stress and career and life insurance and being trapped in a job and resignation to a position in life you never wanted and anger and humiliation – before all of that, there was heartbreak.
Life Is Strange is so insidious it will sign the lease to your heart before you can even agree to its terms. Even if you’ve completely forgotten what it was like to have someone look at you with a smile, to talk to you in a crowded room, to invite you over to their place – even if all of those feelings are like bits of forgotten dust floating through the afternoon air, the story of Max, Chloe and Rachel brings them all back like a fire hose to the face.
I wrote about Life Is Strange before when I decided it was the best game I played in 2015, something that is still true. It was harrowing and unique and stayed with me longer than any piece of fiction ever has. So when Dontnod Entertainment confirmed that not only were they making a new season but also a prequel, I was VERY hesitant. A new season with (presumably) different characters? Okay fine whatever, I can deal with that. But a prequel dealing with Chloe’s relationship with Rachel Amber?
oH BOY, Uh, let me JUst – Uhhh bUt waIT I haVE a VERy speCIFIc VIsION in MY HEad FOr hOW ThOSE tWo INTEracTED NoT Sure I can deal wAit WHAT am I SAYIng This IS A VideO GaME I’m A GRowN AdulT get A HOLD OF YOURSELF you IDioT WHo COUld PossibLY CarE This MuCH?
On top of these freight-train-through-an-anxiety-medication-factory feelings, it’s not even the same development team as the first game. The people making the prequel have snowboarding games, rally driving games and Neopets on their resume. And if that wasn’t enough to set off the alarm bells, the original voice actor for Chloe will only be returning as a consultant for the prequel. Because of a voice actor’s strike, Chloe will now be voiced by the actor who did all the motion capture in the first season. Is this better or worse? Will the game be rubbish? Will it have a snowboarding mini-game? Does Chloe belong to the voice actor, the motion capture actor or the player? Does it even matter when I press start on Episode 1? I honestly don’t know.
What I do know is when Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is released, I’ll be there. I have to know. It’s inevitable. Rachel Amber is THE unseen omnipresence in season one of Life Is Strange so to see her brought to life and interact with Chloe is quite frankly, unmissable. Even locking away the ‘Farewell to Max’ special episode in the Deluxe Edition is an irrelevant hurdle. Fine, I’ll play that too. They are literally making me pay more money to see it but I don’t care. This isn’t a map pack or a character outfit. This is a chance to see Max again. Take all my fucking money.
I may not have witnessed the love of my young life erased from existence by a time paradox and then gunned down in a high school toilet, but I’ve had my heart broken. More than once. So have you, haven’t you? Let me ask you this – was it avoidable? Could have you done something differently? Do you still wonder about that person sometimes? What are they doing now? Do they ever think about you?
On the other hand, what about that person you did nothing about? They didn’t even know how you felt but on some level, there was a fleeting moment where you connected and now it’s gone forever. And nobody will ever know.
So forget about all the foolish people who wrote off Life Is Strange before even playing it. It’s their loss. They’re not worth your time. They belong in the same useless, unemotional section of your life as the people who chose to Sacrifice Arcadia Bay. They’re wrong and you know it. They’ll never know what’s like to hear a few seconds of the guitar chords from the menu screen and feel your heart tighten.
Life Is Strange: Before The Storm starts on the 31st of August and against my better judgement, experience and the dark corners of my soul – I’m ready to be hurt again. I hope I’m not the only one.