Friday, 25 December 2015

Life Is Strange: Episode 5

I'm having trouble thinking of anything to put in my annual list of Cool Things and Stuff. It might not even be a Top 10 this year. So I decided to finish Life is Strange, and I hoped that it would at least present enough worth mentioning favourably in one paragraph.

Well, I've finished it, and... my list is still incomplete. I won't review it, but I'm going to talk about the last episode in the series in particular:

I think I would have chosen the more selfless of the endings, but I was too frustrated by how the game repeatedly made me fail. Not “I failed”. Not “this game was hard”. Those would have been my fault. But what’s not my fault is when a game is broken and not finished.

It obviously wanted me to do certain things, and then... didn’t show me they even existed as an option. And then it judged/punished me for it not telling me what I was supposed to do. Even when I explored every inch of every environment, multiple times. There is something humiliating and enraging about being treated like a failure, but especially so when all of the necessary resources are withheld from you. Does it even matter if it was deliberate?

At that point, my sympathy for everyone in that dumbass town was gone. If I could have killed Max and Chloe and that dog too, that would have been the ultimate justice. Just to spite the writers and the designers and even the artists. Even the people whose music was licensed for this turd.

It didn’t need to be this way. It had potential to be great. I think it wanted to be great when it started out.

I didn’t want to hate Life is Strange, but apparently the people who made it did.

This line had to have been written at gunpoint.

In a game like this, everything is conveyance. You depend on the visual interface to let you know what you CAN do, even if it isn’t clear immediately what you MUST do. The whole game is literally choosing dialogue options and humping every square inch of the environments for something to interact with/use. But in the last episode, this game just refuses to show prompts for what you’re supposed to(or even can) interact with, the whole experience was frustrating and vague enough to make my blood boil. This game did everything it could to destroy its’ own momentum.

You see that "Look" graphic in the screenshot above? And the sketchy white outline around the television? That's your only way of knowing you can interact with anything. And the last episode doesn't do that 9 times out of 10.

Because of that, Episode 5 actually managed to be the worst episode, and it shouldn’t be. I was finally emotionally-invested! I was actually caring about what happened and why. It looked like it was finally going to come in for a smooth landing, but the U.I. became so sloppy and unreliable that it destroyed whatever investment I had in any of the characters. The game’s inability to function, and its’ point-and-click Adventure Game opaque “answers” actually made me stop caring. And at the moment where I should have cared the most.

I was trying to do the goody-two-shoes route. I was trying to save everyone. Even the little things like saving the blue jay across multiple episodes, and just making sure the fat girl didn’t get hit in the head with a football or whatever. I played 99% of Life is Strange trying to put everyone else’s needs above that of Max’s. Choosing to let everyone suffer for my actions should have been an unacceptable failure condition. But the game goes so far out of its’ way to be needlessly, pointlessly obscure about what the solutions for its’ puzzles are. And because those puzzles block your entrance to the next little character moment, and because it just kept piling on, over and over with this madness that I was eventually glad at how many characters I’d killed. I might have saved them if the game hadn’t stopped functioning, or at least if it didn’t feel like it was blaming me for it’s own fuck-ups.

We don't get a lot of games that aren't about brodudes shooting stuff. It's too bad all of that potential was thrown out.

It’s like they outsourced it to Sega and had Tim Schaefer write it. If I were a generous man, I'd guess this was the result of time and budget constraints. Because surely they wouldn't have shit the bed this hard if they didn't want to, right...? But there's something about how WRONG this game presents itself in the last episode that it made it feel personal. Because at that point, it finally was.

Dontnod was THIS close to having a “Game of the Year” contender on their hands. I almost wish I could rewind time and prevent myself from playing this shit.



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