“Nice try Max. You can’t erase your shame that easily.” So says Chloe in the new bonus episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, entitled “Farewell,” and there’s plenty more where that came from. Later on, Max finds a letter Chloe wrote her long ago in which she makes a prediction: “We have battled many foes and never fail to save each other.” Max, plaintive and thickly laid-on, muses, “It’s so hard to predict the future. Maybe it’s better to enjoy the present instead.”
Sage advice, but unfortunately your present is rather boxy. You’ll be stacking boxes to reach the attic door, pushing boxes to clear a route through the clutter, sitting on a box and staring out the window, and then, eventually, digging a box up. It’s always been the case with Life is Strange, and it speaks equally to our desire for the drama and to the doldrums of the gameplay that you’d really rather just sit and watch it all with a bucket of ice cream than pick up the controller to shuffle an old fridge out the way.
Set three years before the rest of this series, and six before the original, “Farewell” turns back the clock to a single day in the early-adolescent lives of the series’ two protagonists. The soon-to-be back-talking punk, Chloe, is a book-smart snicklefritz here (with Ashly Burch back in the role), teasing Max and inciting mischief as the pair re-create their younger days of piratical pretend. The two scallywags are after buried treasure – a time capsule they planted in the garden years back.
But never mind that; it’s the marginalia we’re after. An eerie drawing of the Arcadia Bay lighthouse hangs on the wall; that deer in that snow globe sits on the mantle; an instant camera waits winkingly on the desk. There’s treasure all around; never mind what lies buried in the garden! The details of these lives lie there for you to soak in, all wreathed in scratchy white marks like Tipp-Ex on a script.
In fact, this script could have used a healthy dollop. Max’s soulsick narration sets the mood – one of grazed knees, tarlatan sunlight, swing-sets and Saturday mornings – but it’s overbearing. Hannah Telle reprises her role, and does so capably, but it’s the writing that stales into mawkishness. At one point she sits on the sofa with Chloe and says inwardly, “I wish this moment could last forever.” (Get it? Like a photo!)
Besides which, does she? For those feeling short-changed by Max’s seeming insouciance at the dwindling friendship, “Farewell” pokes seeds of context into its narrative soil. Early on, the two are clearing out Chloe’s room, and Max moves to blithely bin some mementos. Chloe, a teenage Miss Havisham, looks at her as though she were mad. She’s happy to live in the jumble of dusty and dog-eared memories.
Max emerges a restless figure, astrally distracted: at one point she channels Steve McQueen in The Great Escape as she bounces a ball against the wall; at another, she stares at Chloe’s mother’s wardrobe and says wistfully, “I always liked to imagine I could open that wardrobe and step into another world.” It doesn’t require much imagination; she’s always lived in another world.
Which is exactly how “Farewell” feels. The blurb calls it a “Nostalgic trip down memory lane.” Perhaps it is for Max and Chloe, but not for us. Our nostalgia belongs back on Blackwell campus; on mornings where Max, in a klutzy daze, hurries to get ready for class; or back in that junkyard, a rusty tintype in our memory.
There is something to be said for the Price house, though: we’ve spent a lot of time in this slatternly tract-house, and there is emotion in its very floorboards. There’s a running tension throughout the episode, in that Max is nervous at telling Chloe about her impending departure for Seattle. The option to spill the beans pops up at different points in the best use of player-choice in the series so far: the potency of choosing lies in your hesitation to spoil the day.
The result is an anxious stew simmering beneath it all, and as the episode reaches its denouement, the significance of this day begins to dawn on us. Dontnod and Deck Nine have proven masters of the montage, bringing cognate images into alignment and stirring us with song: a woman standing in a doorframe, the firs shivering at the town’s edge, a car on the road, a girl in her room. It’s hard not to be gulled by its final moments, despite their improbable set-up. It goes for the heart and hopes the head isn’t looking.
In a recent blog entry, it was revealed that Season 2 of Life is Strange would feature a “new story and characters.” In other words, this is likely the last we’ll see of Maxine Caulfield, one of gaming’s truly enigmatic characters. An everyday hero? She’s a cool cipher, seeing the world from the remove of her viewfinder, as unknowable here as she was in the eye of the storm.