It has been a while since I cried over a video game. I got something stuck in my eye during Metal Gear Solid 4, I wept for Duck in The Walking Dead (still high fivin’ you, bro), and I bawled like a baby when I thought I lost Argo in Shadow of the Colossus. It’s been so long since a game affected me so greatly and I guess one could say that I was overdue for a tear jerker. Enter “Out of Time.” Nothing would prepare me for the emotional gut punch in its second episode. I’m getting ahead of myself, so let’s start at the beginning.
Much of the interactions Max has with the people around her are directly related to the choices made in “Chrysalis.” If you supported Ms. Grant’s petition to protest the installation of security cameras, she’ll greet you with a smile. If you reported Nathan Prescott’s brandishing of a gun, school officials will comment accordingly. Life Is Strange is all about the butterfly effect and the ramifications and consequences that occur from Max choosing one action or response over another. Some of these situations may have minor outcomes, like rewinding time to warn a friend to dodge an object thrown by another girl in a dorm. Some actions, like the climax of episode two, have far reaching consequences that will significantly change the direction of the story and the people who occupy it.
“Out of Time” picks up after the events of “Chrysalis.” Max confided to Chloe, a cherished childhood friend, about her ability to travel through time and the startling vision of a tornado poised to destroy the town of Arcadia Bay in five days. The precursor to this bizarre natural disaster is a sudden snowfall on a warm sunny day. The first half of the episode concerns the reunion of Max and Chloe, and the latter’s interest in her friend’s ability to manipulate time. Max is forced to prove her power in a well scripted sequence pulled directly from the film Groundhog’s Day. The game explores the relationship between these two girls and how Max’s absence affected Chloe, which motivated her metamorphosis as a bad girl who deals in drugs and loan sharks. What’s really fascinating is Chloe’s relationship with Amber Rachel, the Blackwell student whose disappearance fuels rumor and speculation among the students and teachers of throughout Blackwell Academy. I really liked the scenes with Max and Chloe because they felt real. Who among us hasn’t suffered the uncomfortable tension of reconnecting with nearly forgotten childhood friends? For all of Max’s power, the one thing she can’t do is travel far back enough to fix the tenuous link that exists between her and Chloe in the present.
Max’s rekindled friendship with Chloe is a key plot point, but it is the plight of Kate Marsh that becomes the most memorable. A devout Christian girl, Kate is depicted in “Chrysalis” as distracted and distant. In “Out of Time,” the cause of her behavior is the result of a bullying campaign initiated by Victoria, the queen bitch of Blackwell Academy. While at a party hosted by the school’s disreputable Vortex Club, a video was taken that shows Kate carousing with boys in a manner that flies against her faith and attempts to spearhead a campus abstinence program. Victoria makes the video viral, an event that sends the poor girl into a spiral of shame and spiritual crisis. Mocked by the other students and vilified by her family, Kate’s situation is completely heartbreaking. As Max, the player can either involved with Kate’s situation or simply do nothing at all (you’d have to be a cold hearted monster to do so). However active the player takes a role in someone else’s affairs, the game steers the characters towards an emotional climax that coincides with a temporary loss of Max’s power.
The result of my actions at the end of “Out of Time” have been etched into my memory forever. When things started getting out of control, I found myself trying to “rewind” the scene over and over, even though I knew there was nothing to be done. Taking away Max’s abilities in this episode was a smart decision, not only because it offers a break from time based puzzles and conversation paths, but because it makes you feel more responsible for actions because you can’t rewind. That being said, what I witnessed--no, caused, made me cry for the rest of the night. The day after, I thought about what happened and in some twisted way, I was able to stomach the conclusion because it replicates the feeling helplessness and guilt people typically experience. The game’s final moments are so real, so brutal, and the feeling of knowing it was my fault really upset me.
Life Is Strange makes it easy to buy into the romance and fantasy of being a high school time traveler. But when things “get real” and cannot be fixed, the results are appropriately harrowing. I’m the kind of person who plays these games in such a way that I do not go back and make different decisions. When I finished The Walking Dead, I left it be. I didn’t go back for a second playthrough because it would cheapen the experience. The same goes for Life Is Strange. I refuse to pull a Quantum Leap and put right what once went wrong. I’m committed to my actions, no matter how terrible they make me feel. That said, I wonder how I would feel about the episode’s final moments if things turned out differently? The misery I felt combined with the heavy feeling of ominous dread as the citizens of Arcadia Bay witness another strange anomaly had me sick to my stomach. How would the alternative make me feel?
I didn’t mention it in my last review, but DONTNOD deserves praise for their selection of music. Much of the Life Is Strange soundtrack are soft, incidental pieces of music that provide a nice backdrop to intimate conversations. The licensed tracks used at the beginning and end of each episode are wonderfully evocative and add so much to the scenes they support.
Despite its generic title, “Out of Time” is the best episode yet of Life Is Strange. It increases the complexity Max’s life and the power she commands. We often believe time travel to be the greatest gift anyone could receive. The chance to avoid bad breakups, fix past regrets, and alter the course of the future is priceless. Unfortunately, reality sets in and sometimes there is no power great enough to affect change. Max suffers greatly with a potentially limited power that she does not understand. Bending the will of time to predict when a coffee cup will fall or complete a school assignment is one thing, but there are things in life that cannot be undone. It should go without saying, but your experience with “Out of Time” may be different from mine. In fact, I hope you get the “good” result so you don’t have to experience the trauma and guilt I suffered.
Librarian by day, Darkstation review editor by night. I've been playing video games since the days of the Commodore 64 and I have no interest in stopping now that I've made it this far.