I’m not going to pretend that I’m the biggest fan of Life Is Strange. I don’t hate the game by any means, but when I played it I found myself frustrated with so many things that I just couldn’t call myself a fan. Still, thanks to many playthroughs and a lot of friends loving the game, I ended up invested. And I’ll definitely be playing Life Is Strange 2.
What frustrated me about the game? Well, there were quite a few things, but in this post, I’ll be taking a look at five of them. So, in no particular order, and with spoilers with the whole game, here are five problems that I had with Life Is Strange.
1. The Narrative Is Unequal
What I mean by this is that things just aren’t fair. Not within the story itself, but externally. The writing of the games doesn’t treat things, doesn’t treat characters, equally. And it drives me up the wall.
To explain what I mean, take Chloe and Frank. These are two characters who are guilty of a lot of the same crimes, but the game doesn’t want us to have the same feelings about Frank as it does about Chloe. Frank and drugs? Bad. Frank and guns? Bad. Chloe and drugs and guns? Sure, why not? And yes, the Prescotts are dicks who take their threats too far, but if someone owes you money then expecting them to pay it back isn’t evil. Frank, too, suffers from this, even though Chloe owes him money. Yeah. Drug dealer. But she borrowed his money. And wants to wave guns around at him?
Rightly, characters like Jefferson and Nathan get treated like the assholes that they are. But the game keeps demanding that I feel sympathy for David for … some reason? And I can’t. The paranoia, the harassment … It all went too far for me. I don’t really care that he had noble intentions because he crossed the line by a long way. Oh, and he hit his stepdaughter. I remember seeing that, being outraged, and then being outraged further when not only the characters but seemingly the narrative itself wanted me to forgive that. Nope.
Judgy Victoria? Ewww. Judgy literally every other character in the game? Eh. Cool.
Hell, things are really slanted when it comes to Chloe. It’s like she can do no wrong. It’s a large part of the reason why I struggled to like her. No, really…
2. Am I Meant to Be On Chloe’s Side?
I’m sorry. I don’t like Chloe. I know there’s a lot of Chloe fans out there so I will stress that I’ve nothing against any of them. People have different opinions and that’s cool. But I just find Chloe really unlikeable. I always say that there’s a difference between disliking a character as a person and disliking them as a character, but I dislike her on both counts. I’ll explain.
I dislike her as a person because she’s not a good person. She’s selfish, manipulative, and short tempered. She urges Max to be on her side, and yet despite Max being her best friend Max can’t do anything right. Max get guilt tripped by Chloe for so many decisions, then receives affection, twisting her into this awful cycle of wanting to please Chloe when it’s impossible to do so. That kind of guilt tripping and manipulation makes me so uncomfortable. Watching it is … awful. Again and again, Max and other characters are manipulated and guilt tripped by Chloe.
I know it’s normal to lash out and blame others before yourself, but Chloe blames everyone else for everything. For things that aren’t their fault. For things that they couldn’t have fixed. And as I said, normal, but Chloe takes it to an unreasonable and unhealthy level, and thanks to the unequal weighting of blame in the narrative she never better and just keeps on doing it. Everything is everybody else’s fault, and she’s sure going to make them feel bad for it.
Sure, there are things about Chloe that I like, but in the end, I dislike her. To be honest, she reminds me of a few people of poor character and brings up bad memories, too. But this post isn’t about my personal problems, so let’s move on.
3. The Choice Is a Lie
Okay, so, at this point I don’t think it’s any secret that decision-based games aren’t really as decision-based as they claim. Oftentimes, the freedom of choice is an illusion. And we know this. The trick is to change enough that we feel satisfied and mask the real lack of choice behind everything as they keep you heading towards the same plot markers.
A lot of series do this pretty well. Take Mass Effect—ending of 3 excluded. There are things as big as characters living or dying—which carries across multiple games. There are also big dialogue changes from Shepard depending on moral alignment. Plus, romance options. If we look at Until Dawn, the sheer number of ways in which the characters can die creates a real sense of choice and freedom through the fact that you could lose a character with any choice.
In Life Is Strange? I don’t know, the illusion just didn’t hold for me. The dialogue didn’t seem to change depending on what I chose, not to mention that rewinding to see what the other choice led to often gave me exactly the same dialogue. It’s called a conversation tree, and yet the branches on this one were lacking. A lot of the time, making one decision seemed to lead the game to find a workaround. Chloe ended up with a gun regardless of what I did. Victoria ends up with Jefferson whether she’s warned or not.
When I was actually thinking about what real difference I can see in the game, I realised that it’s whether or not you manage to save Kate. And yet if she dies, she’s gone, and if she lives, she’s off to the hospital, and so she’s gone. So really, it didn’t feel like that big of a change at all.
I don’t think it helps that the time travel feature emphasises your choices even further. I mean, the game claims that you’re influencing the past, present, and future, and that just isn’t true. I mean, just take a look at the image that I showed above. Different endings? There are two. And I feel like my choices had nothing to do with them. I feel like the only choice that ended up meaning anything to the ending.
And this brings me on to my next big problem, the horrible side effect of the true lack of choice.
4. What Am I Accomplishing?
Yes—ending spoilers in depth on this one—by the end, you have accomplished something. You’ve got two choices. You can revert to the beginning, undoing everything and losing all your choices, but with you and Max learning the lessons of the game. Or, you can ride off into the sunset with Chloe and leave everyone to die which is … kind of a dick move, to be honest.
I’m not talking about the endings right now. I’m talking about everything that leads up to them. Every single time you make a decision in this game, you get a supreme guilt trip. You get Max going “should I rewind and try something else?” and the other characters bringing up every decision you made, plus the guilt tripping from Chloe that I mentioned earlier. Now, from a game design standpoint, you can see why this decision was made. In a game full of choice, you can see why they might want to make you constantly worried about your choices.
However, this causes more problems than it solves. When every single decision that I make is constantly called into question, it’s very hard to feel like you’ve accomplished anything. And feeling like I’ve accomplished things is why I play video games, dude. I wanna get stuff done without going outside and video games get it done for me. Throughout the whole game my accomplishments kept getting stolen from me by doubt and guilt tripping, and in a game of choice that’s fine to a certain degree, but in Life Is Strange it was so constant that the only thing I felt like I did was saving Kate. I got to the ending thinking “And what did I get done here, hm?”
5. Oh Yeah, Those Endings…
I think I could write an entire post about why I didn’t quite get on with the endings of the game, but let’s focus on this: Are there really two? The game clearly wants you to sacrifice Chloe. The ending if you choose that option is just … better than the other option. It’s better written, better constructed, and better fits with the theme of the game. Even though this game isn’t my favourite by any means, that ending still got to me. All teary eyed.
The other ending? Max and Chloe drive off, and that’s it. And you kind of leave everyone to die. Which, like I said, wow that’s a dick move. And it’s such a shame, too, because that ending could teach you the same lessons as the sacrifice Chloe ending. It could show you the consequences of oh heck you, you killed everyone. But no, it didn’t. Max and Chloe just drive away and smile and I just … felt empty. The ending … wasn’t an ending. It was hollow.
And if the game wants you to sacrifice Chloe, and the game is boiling it down to two endings, then was it really a game of choice to begin with?
There’s plenty of positive things I could say about this game, sure, but this was just some of the problems that I had. If you have any thoughts on Life Is Strange then let me know! Thank you for reading!