This post will contain spoilers for the first episode of Dontnod Entertainment’s Life Is Strange. There are content warnings for violence and privacy intrusions.
I liked the first episode of Life Is Strange, though for a review I would recommend Maddy Myers over at Paste Magazine. Similarly, I was not surprised to see Todd Harper look at the rewind mechanic of the game. The protagonist, Max, gains the power to rewind time, and over the course of this first episode feels very much like a tutorial for how to use that, providing a sandbox in which to try it in various scenarios. Harper noted an interaction with drones that I completely missed, whereas I noted a few people completely walked by the fact that they could help a young teen woman not be hit by a football later in the episode.
Harper further elaborates on other games that have used the rewind mechanism, but what I find interesting is that in this game, it saves me the time of being a save scummer. Instead of saving right before a decision (not actually possible, as this auto-saves), making both decisions, and then sticking with one, I can easily just start rewinding time after a decision and see how it goes. This actually caused some waffling on my part: wanting to see how both options were presented before making a decision. Max does comment on this, never giving an indication as to which would be better.
How does the player define better? I began to realize I was slowly learning more about Max the more I played with rewinding time. Here was a character who had just moved to a town in which she had lived before, is attending an elite school, and apparently has a great future as a photographer ahead of her. Oh, and one of her old best friends lives in the town. However, her need to be liked can be reflected in her ability to rewind time, as Harper notes. She doesn’t naturally have the answers to many of the questions her classmates pose her, which puts her in the position of being able to either walk away or use her ability to gain their good graces.
In particular, the achievements in the game seem to try and push for that narrative, as the majority are for taking photographs, a handful of which only occur when getting a certain rewind portion correct and then photographing the result (a football missing a student’s head leads to it hitting a window, which can then be photographed; or a bird whose life is saved by lifting a window allows for the same bird to be photographed again in a later scene).
Which leads to a feeling that to achieve the full intent of the game, and what is expected of Max (at least from the developers’ point of view), one has to use this device to do as much as possible, and to test the extent of these powers. Therefore, better seems to indicate use it whenever possible, but at the crux of important decisions where one has to go one way or another, and can’t rewind to come up with a third option, there is no definitive answer, or even one so basically broken down as paragon/renegade. Gather as much information as possible in order to make the decision you feel would be best.
In particular, in a later scene, Max’s former best friend, Chloe, is being harangued by her father-in-law. I had guided Max to hide in a closet and the decision came up whether or not to interrupt the scene. Having earlier gone to fix Max’s camera, I had snooped around the house, finding evidence that Max’s father-in-law was both the security guard who had been harassing Kate earlier, and that he was creepily surveying the entire campus with cameras. A teacher had earlier asked Max to sign a petition to stop this from occurring, though it appears to already be in effect anyway.
Much of this can actually be skipped, but it meant that in that moment, knowing that this father-in-law was a surveillance fiend, I felt Max, whose questioning if anything she does is correct, would have chosen to remain out of the picture and not focus on her for now. She has an odd power set, is new-again in town, and has very few close friends. Chloe would later bemoan Max not getting involved, which seems out of character for her, considering she expressly stated that Max being caught there would have disastrous consequences for her (then again, we don’t know Chloe’s full story, and she had been getting stoned right before this).
This Telltale games style of adventure game seems to thrive on difficult decisions, and I much appreciate the fact that not only has Dontnod added a mechanic where I don’t feel even the urge to research my options beforehand, or needing to go look up what happens afterward, but embraced it within the framework of Max’s own confusion and willingness to be liked. It does inform about not only her own insecurities, but mimics what I felt my own reaction was in trying to figure out how I would even approach this particular run through the game. As I was getting to learn who Max was, she is learning what her limits are, and together it felt like we were both coming to terms with that before heading further into the story.