Max and Chloe are lying in bed together. It is morning. Soft acoustic music plays in the background. Last night they broke into Blackwell Academy, stole some files, and took a midnight dip in the school’s pool. Sunlight is seeping in from behind the American flag-curtain covering Chloe’s bedroom window. They are both perfectly at ease in each other’s presence, a contrast to the romantic and sexual tension I felt as I played through the mentioned pool scene. A prompt to get up from bed is displayed on screen. I ignore it and it fades. I want to linger in this moment. I want Max and Chloe to linger in this moment. Neither of them says anything. It is perfect.
That scene takes place just over halfway through Life is Strange Episode 3: Chaos Theory. The writers and developers at Dontnod Entertainment have crafted an incredible middle chapter in their story of a high school senior with the ability to rewind time. The episode is an emotional rollercoaster and that scene is one of the only calm moments. Few games are able to accomplish what Life is Strange truly cements in this episode: true identification and immersion. I wanted to let these fictional characters linger in their moment because I so believed in their story and the reality of what was happening. Max, Chloe, and the entire cast is written and acted so incredibly well that they feel like real people. Max and Chloe had been through a lot; they deserved a quiet moment together.
Episode 3 picks up just hours after the climatic end of Episode 2. Having each episode follow the preceding one so closely has created a sense of urgency to Life is Strange’s plot. Episode 3 has the two fold task of dealing with the fallout from the events of Episode 2 and continuing the plot forward as we head towards an endgame with Episodes 4 and 5. It does both brilliantly. Dontnod accomplish this by focusing almost exclusively on Max and Chloe. Max is reeling from the events involving Kate Marsh while Chloe is searching for answers regarding her friend Rachel’s disappearance. Together, they break into Blackwell Academy, and a few other places, to discover some clues as to what is really going on.
The break-in and subsequent events give Max and Chloe extended time alone together. Their chemistry, which has been developing for two episodes now, hits a perfect stride here. They play off of each other so well. Assuming the writers and designers are pushing these two towards a romantic relationship (which I fully believe), they have captured that intangible romantic spark that happens between two people. Max and Chloe balance each other out and bring out the best in each other. I was ready to jump out of my chair as they jumped into the pool in just their undergarments. Perhaps best of all, the designers know how to use subtlety: a sideways glance from Chloe when Max is talking to a guy on the phone; a tinge of jealousy to Max’s voice when she thinks about Rachel; the way Chloe longingly talks about a driving down the coast with Max. The script is written with such remarkable purpose and nuance.
Episode 3 continues to demonstrate that the games industry should look no further than Life is Strange for a guide on how to handle female representation in video games. Not only are the two main characters female, not only is a majority of the supporting cast female, but they are all well written, believable, and flawed. Furthermore, it all feels perfectly natural. Even the scene in which Chloe and Max are wearing nothing but their underwear and bras is well done: there are no gratuitous boob/butt shots, no fan service-y bull shit. They are dressed that way because it makes sense for the characters and scene, not to satisfy a man’s gaze. However, only looking back on the game do I realize how subversive it is; in the moment, all I care about are the characters and what’s going to happen next. And that’s the brilliance of it.
Just as the quiet moment in Chloe’s bedroom had to come to an end, so too did any sense of ease in the town of Arcadia. Emotions in this episode reach a fever pitch as Chloe feels betrayed by everyone and Max discovers a new power that leads to a heart-wrenching conclusion I never saw coming. I am so beyond excited for episode 4 I can’t believe it’s still four weeks away.
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