Sunday, 27 December 2015

Life Is Strange: "The Ideal Ending"

I've been thinking about Life Is Strange a lot lately.  And not just the last episode, which made Sonic Boom look like a finished product.  The world and the characters and the details still swim in my headspace.  I have good memories of it.  There are things I would have preferred to do differently, but I'm also weirdly proud of a lot of the decisions I made in it.  While this series does absolutely crap the bed in its' finale, I must begrudgingly admit that it doesn't kill the entire project.  It doesn't retroactively make the entire game that came before it pointless and stupid, like The Walking Dead games did.

But I do find myself wondering what I would change about the game itself.  The first episode feels like it was written by martians trying to impersonate humans, based only on descriptions they heard over their space phones.  The last episode is malfunctioning filler.  And the reveal of the Big Bad Guy is spoiled so early in the game, I resented the characters not figuring it out sooner.

And then there's the last big choice in the game.  As it is, it's fine. It stopped me in my tracks, the way that Geth mission choice in Mass Effect 2 did.  But I think the options I wanted weren't there.

End-Game Spoilers below the break:  You've been warned.

It wants you to choose between the life of your best friend, or the well-being of the town the game takes place in.  If you go back in time to the point where Chloe would have been shot by a psychotic student in the school, the idea is that you do nothing and let things play out the way they would have if you hadn't been given time travel powers.  This prevents paradox time bullshit from ruining everything later.

Or you destroy your only means of going back to that point, and the town gets wiped out by a tornado.  You can go through the whole game helping everyone, and saving lives only to leave them to the mercy of nature(like I did).

There are problems with both options.

If you let the town get tornado'd, you and Chloe drive out of town in the morning, smiling like dumbasses.  And that's how that version of the game ends.  There is no indication that anyone died.  Tornadoes don't tend to murder entire populations.  Chloe and Max just leave.  They don't help rebuild.  They don't check to see if anyone survived, including their families.  They have no idea if the Murderers are still around, ready to cause more damage to the world.  They just bail.  Where are they going?  Why?  Fuck if anyone knows.

That's because the devs spent all of their time and budget on a shitty, overlong dream sequence.  With lots of recycled art assets and completely unnecessary stealth sequences.  So there wasn't any way they could give an ending that made sense and wasn't stupid.

If you go back in time, you let Chloe get murdered.  You just sit and watch it happen, even though it doesn't seem like doing anything at that specific point would alter events to the point where it fucks up nature itself.  You're not allowed to intervene at all.  You don't get to confront Nathan about what he did, or convince him to help them take down The Real Villain.  The game bends over backwards to make you hate and suspect him, but he's mostly just a red herring.  You'd think in one of the realities you visit, where he tearfully tries to warn you about this near the end would suggest there IS a way to appeal to him.

You can't even choose to sacrifice yourself instead, which can be argued would be at least as dramatic as letting Chloe die.  You just make a binary choice and then the game takes control and steers Max into stupid decisions.

Ideally, I would have made the choice more about whether Max destroys her only means of going back in time.  If I could have any ending I'd want, I'd do both. I'd save Chloe, have her life out that life, but hold onto the means to go back.  That way, Max and Chloe would have the life they deserve, and when that's over, Max could go back and save the town.  Since you're only choosing which reality you live in, it seems like the best solution would be to pick the one where Chloe isn't cheated out of her life.  That way, she'd have lived that life and brought those memories and experiences with her.  This would make going to the world where she Chloe doesn't survive feel a bit less unfair and pointless.

And the best part?  They wouldn't have to actually SHOW this.  It's enough to hear one of these characters just say it, and THEN leave the specifics up to the player's imagination.  There wouldn't be any need to actually model and texture and animate their entire lives after the fact.  It still wouldn't clear up why Max got the powers in the first place, another complaint I have about the ending.  But it would at least explain why they're fuckin' smiling in the truck at the end.

(It also allows for the possibility that Max might promise Chloe to return, but maybe secretly destroy the photograph that would let her travel back to right everything else.  Maybe that could have been the last big choice.  How's that for an interesting conclusion?)

Fan-fiction, I know.  I can't expect devs to be able to read my mind months after they already released their game.  Just thinking out loud, here.  If nothing else, I cared enough to think about all of this.  This whole game seemed like a big joke when I started playing it, but I think it's earned a place in my memory.  I'm glad it didn't just leave my bloodstream the moment it was over, like a lot of games I've played recently.

You know what?  In spite of the bullshit of the last episode, I think I might just put this in my obligatory year-end list thing.  Hell, I forgave Alan Wake just because it was different enough.  I'm not sure if that speaks more about the year Alan Wake came out or about the year Life is Strange was finished...



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