Back in the summer, a survey came out saying that guys wanted more female superheroes in their video games, which is dope. From a diversity standpoint, anyone who isn’t a jacked, rugged white dude as the lead in popular video games is welcome. The odd thing about that survey, though, is that you’d think there haven't been any badass in video games. Metroid's title character, Samus Aran, is a woman (although you had to play a certain way to even figure out Samus’ real identity), and everyone from Tomb Raider’s Lara Croft and Mortal Kombat’s Sonya Blade to Ms. Pac-Man, Joanna Dark, and Princess Zelda have been pretty iconic in their own right. But male gamers may struggle to recall those heroines under the cloud of the classic, almost inescapable Princess Peach “damsel in distress” aspect of many video games. And truth be told, even with a number of examples of qualified female leads in today’s video games, there’s still a shit load of titles that feature the same type of guys (and girls) as their lead.
But maybe Life Is Strange is changing that.
Dropping in January of this year, the interactive, episodic game (which was developed by Dontnod Entertainment and published by Square Enix) is about Max Caufield, an 18-year-old photographer attending Blackwell Academy in the city of Arcadia Bay, Oregon, who discovers during a dream in class that she has the power to control time. She can literally rewind time, replaying certain situations with newly discovered information, or just placing herself in the right place at the right time (all time puns intended). That's it; no karate chops, no C4 wizardy, no sword-fighting. A young woman who has the power to backspin life like your favorite DJ works vinyl. The beauty of the game is that you’re learning how Max's power works just as she’s beginning to understand it herself, which can work out well for you… or fuck up your game.
The only power greater than Max's control of time is that she's inquisitive by nature. The ability to CHECK EVERYTHING in every area of Life Is Strange is just as vital as knowing when to rewind your mistakes. It's almost like Max's love for photography should take a seat so she can get this private investigation degree on and popping. Early on in the game, as you’re perusing the contents of one of your dorm mates down the hall, too much snooping can cause them to truly get pissed at you (although rewinding time can erase that hate), but the snooping can (and usually does) help you out of some major jams, or help your interactions with the many students at Blackwell, as Max tries to get down to the bottom of a few disturbing occurrences in the game.
The first? A weird premonition that Max has during her initial dream-like state shows a tornado hitting her Oregon town in a few days. The second, a missing persons case for one of her friend Chloe’s homegirl, Rachel Amber, which is tied into one of the more central plots within the game: what exactly is going on with the campus elite’s crew, The Vortex Club? Instead of just using her power to, say, make it so her enemies are run over by trucks or fall off of a cliff, Max is all about gathering evidence to put down her enemies for good.
In today's society, where so many people are gathering arms and going to war, and in an age where no one seems to retain information—"because the Internet"—it’s intriguing to find a game that’s more interested in trying to solve these life-or-death situations with information you've gained, not action. Max has only held a gun a handful of times in the series, and rarely resorts to violence; she’d rather splatter paint all over your expensive sweater in the name of humiliation than do any kind of real harm to you. She isn't about that life, and isn't trying to be. It's remarkable playing a game that feels real enough in the sense that not everyone is strapped and ready to kill you. What that means is that some of these informed decisions you make can still have very real consequences, even if they only take place in the make-believe world of that game.
I don’t normally rock with these “choose your own adventure” type of games, so the idea of answering questions and seeing action unfold (with my actual involvement being limited to moving the character and interacting with their environment), usually just bores the piss out of me. Life Is Strange is in that same vein, but where Life Is Strange wins is not just because of Max, but on the story that's woven around her. It's a thing of beauty that, even when you can see where it's going, will still have you on the edge of your seat. Life Is Strange isn't a game that you can just hop in and hop out of—the story itself grabs you within the first episode, and at that point, you're hooked.
I can’t front like the game is a clean 10, though; the lip-syncing in the game can be atrocious, and whoever wrote the dialogue needs to hang out with actual kids. At times, it can feel like your “hip” uncle took a dictionary of “slang” from 2010 and decided to write some #youth conversation. Fam, just don’t. “Go fuck your selfie” is cute, but that happens in the first episode, and is probably the pinnacle of corny teen-speak in the series. There are also some instances where, if you miss one path or just can't figure out where the last item is hidden, you will end up spending what feels like an eternity trying to find it before progressing to the next section of the game. All of that said, Life Is Strange has been seen as the little indie that could, and no matter what the case may be when it comes to its faults, the story trumps all, as Max and Chloe's journey becomes more engrossing with each new episode.
What we see in Max is the ability to grab a hold of our environment, taking the tools she (and really, you) has learned to utilize in a short amount of time, and trying to actually do something with them that’s bigger than whatever problems you’re having. To be completely selfless, for the sake of your squad, your school, and the Earth.
The fifth and final episode of Life Is Strange drops on October 20th; after the penultimate episode, I’m not sure how Max will get out of this pickle. I know I’m locked in for the ride, and once those final end credits roll, I'm gonna be wishing I could hit rewind on the entire experience, and relive the passion for life (and gaming) that my hero Max Caufield has imparted through Life Is Strange... that is, until we get some kind of ultraviolent femme fatale in the next Grand Theft Auto installment, right?