In its second instalment, Life Is Strange takes the time to develop Max’s female friendships, then puts said friends in mortal danger repeatedly. Lucky Max has time reversal powers! Until she doesn’t.
There is so very much going on in this little game. In my quest to avoid spoilers I also avoided all the content warnings, which was a bit of a goof, so if anyone is reading this out of curiosity and hasn’t played yet, do be aware there is some seriously icky implications regarding girls being drugged at parties, and later the game requires you to talk someone out of suicide. How well the narrative handles these two confronting issues kind of remains to be seen at this point—since, as an exciting rarity, I’m writing these reviews with no idea what’s going to happen next—but we can talk about that later.
The heart of the matter is the source of Kate’s bullying. A video of her “all over” a bunch of guys at a party has gone viral, doubly salacious because she advocates for abstinence and seems to be the overtly wholesome churchy type, leading to incredibly witty graffiti like “Kate twerks for God”. Razor sharp. The only one who seems to be supporting her in her time of humiliation is Max, and her gentle nature is really quite lovely to watch. I’m not sure if they’re also old friends like her and Chloe, or if they bonded since coming to Blackwell Academy for Pretentious Troublemakers, but they have a genuinely sweet little friendship.
Kate confides that she went to a Vortex Club party (cool kids only, apparently, which is curious) and definitely did not drink enough to lose that much control of herself… but she does remember feeling sick, and Nathan “My Family Owns the Town and I Shoot Girls in Bathrooms” Prescott taking her to a white, bright room that she assumed was the hospital. The rest is a blur, and the video was the first Kate knew of any man-handling exploits. This sounds eerily close to what Chloe told Max the evening before, so Max suggests that Kate might have been drugged and promises to investigate.
So someone’s going around drugging girls. I have no idea how skeevy this storyline is going to get and I’m honestly a little afraid, but at least it’s treating it like something horrifying and not funny and shocking. Does this have anything to do with Rachel Amber’s disappearance? Is Nathan just a predatory asshole or is there something bigger afoot? The plot thickens, as if Max didn’t have enough going on with discovering she can rewind time, which her old bud Chloe is very interested in. She demands they meet at the local diner.
It turns out said diner is where Chloe’s mother works (whether Chloe set this meeting up on purpose or if it’s the only diner in this petite town I’m not sure), and through a conversation with her we get some more insight into Chloe’s family life. We also see the old ploy of the mother adoring her child’s best friend but remaining antagonistic to and unforgiving of her child, which was played wonderfully true to life. Even without considering the security cameras her stepfather installed presumably without Mrs. Price’s knowledge, home is clearly a tense place for our blue-haired bandit. Chloe brushes off her maternal conflict and springs, with almost aggressive playfulness, into time travel talk.
After getting Max to prove herself with some fun tricks like predicting the events around the diner, Chloe takes her to the junkyard where she hangs out because she feels more at home among trash than her family. She’s keen to play around with a DIY shooting range and a gun she’s stolen from stepdad David, which Max goes along with because how do you fight this girl’s raw energy without getting a wave of it in your face? You don’t. Chloe is rash, reckless, and gets angry as easily as she gets bored, and happily sends Max off to explore the junkyard and find bottles for her to shoot. Bottles. Though it would be unfair of me to get tetchy with a game for behaving like a game, do we not have more important things to be doing with the whole time travel business? Shouldn’t you kids be in school? Max, anyway—Chloe got kicked out because the walls of the establishment could not contain her angst.
It’s difficult to see how meek, well-meaning Max and this ball of emotional combustion are in any way compatible, until Chloe softens and actually talks about her feelings as if they mean something and aren’t just a hilarious and stupid inconvenience. Behind her rough façade she seems to genuinely care about Max, especially when Max starts bleeding from the nose and faints, attacked by images of that lighthouse-destroying storm. Chloe might think it’s cool, but I’ve a feeling Max should be careful how much she plays with this power…
To add to the trouble, Chloe’s drug dealer shows up, and further demonstrates how much of an angry mess Chloe’s life is. He also thickens the mystery yet more by having a bracelet that was Rachel’s on him. Max is freaked out by the entire knife-wielding money-demanding bracelet-wearing business, and threatens to shoot him with Chloe’s (unfortunately empty) gun. Even though it’s clearly exacerbated things, Chloe is nothing but grateful, and so they decide to hang out on the train tracks that we have seen in use over the course of the scene. Naturally, their heart-to-heart is interrupted by a train whistle and Chloe’s boot getting stuck. Rescue time!
Having saved Chloe’s life for the second time in as many days and feeling like a genuine superhero, Max heads back to school, where she does science experiments with Warren for little reason at all, lets Jefferson know she’s worried that nothing’s being done about Kate or the Nathan-with-a-gun thing—which has earned her a warning from his family lawyers, by the way, as well as a shocked message from her mother and some graffiti on her photo-wall (damn you! Those are Polaroids! There are no other copies!!)—and is distracted in class by seeing Step-Gun David stalking Kate out the window.
As if things needed to get worse, someone bursts in soon after saying something crazy is going on at the girls’ dorms. Being the bloodthirsty bunch they are, the entire school rushes over… to watch Kate stand on the roof looking like she’s about to jump. And she does. To her death. Max rewinds, frantically, but something goes wrong. Her vision clouds, her nose bleeds again, and everything that’s been a little bit off with the time reversal animation comes to a head. Max freezes time instead of reversing it, and can only push forward past suspended raindrops and gaping students and birds paused mid-flight, until she gets to the roof.
She can’t rewind. Her head is pounding and it just won’t work. She’s used up her quota of superpower for the day, or forever, she’s not sure—either way, she can’t go back and fix this if she does the wrong thing, so every word she says to Kate counts. I didn’t realise how much I’d been relying on time travel as a story mechanic until it wasn’t there: this scene was incredibly tense because the odds were suddenly real again. Whether or not we’d meant to, we’d been messing around with our decisions because we knew if it went badly we could rewind and pick a better one. Now, in the most awful and dangerous situation, we were all alone and ordinary.
And in our game, unfortunately, Max alone and ordinary was not enough. We could not convince Kate to step down and she jumped. She is now dead. As this was effectively entirely the player’s fault, I’m interested in seeing how much this actually affects the overall story—Kate became much more important this episode, to Max and to the developing mystery, and I dearly hope her decision to jump or step down is not just a point that’s breezed past.
I can’t speak too much about whether this was leapt to by the writers as the greatest possible source of shock value they could think of, because people have been driven to suicide by bullying and slander, and it’s a horrible, horrible thing. I can’t speak too much on the subject so I’ll see how this action affects the story before I make judgements. I feel like this is an important event, but I suppose the issue is whether or not it’s about Kate’s story or if she’s just a pawn killed off to hurt Max and advance the plot.
Either way, everything is awful. The atmosphere is heavy and grim. An inquiry is held, and Max tells the principal that she believes Nathan drugged Kate, resulting in her behaviour in the video. He basically snorts “my father will hear about this!” but is suspended anyway. Warren comforts Max as she sits traumatised on the school steps, and they watch the sunset… as an unpredicted eclipse occurs.
Alright, unseasonal snow is one thing, but that’s the moon. Is Max’s time travel affecting celestial bodies? Is the oncoming end of days to do with Max’s time travel? Where did the ability come from in the first place? What was with that ghostly doe Max saw at the junkyard? And who the hell is keeping folders with girls’ names on them, which we keep seeing before the credits? There’s one for Rachel, and now there’s one for Kate. Oh, this is foreboding. What in the world is going on.
Only one way to find out! Stay tuned for episode three!
NOTE: I’ve learnt that Kate’s suicide can be prevented (well, don’t I feel like hell) but she’s effectively out of the story either way since she leaves to recover if she lives. So… it doesn’t really affect the story so much as how Max and by extension the player feels, knowing that her life was in your hands. Hmm.