We don’t often get to say goodbye in games – the story ends, the credits roll in and we wait for the sequel. Games are even frequently being remastered, so we can once more immerse ourselves in the worlds we grew up with. Games run indefinitely, and we no longer need to let go of our favourite characters at the end of a 40-hour play-through.
Life Is Strange Before the Storm’s bonus episode, Farewell, allows players one more chance to play as Maxine Caulfield – a welcome change to the world of games but not one that is any easier to endure.
If you played the first instalment of Life Is Strange you come into this episode with a complete timeline; you know what’s going to happen, when it’s going to happen, and you know it’s going to be sad. It’s going to hurt.
While Before the Storm was a strong emotional journey, it often felt lacking in impact; while players are fans of Chloe, their connection to Rachel is not as strong and the rushed story-line leaves a lot to be desired. Farewell in comparison is an episode that almost from the first line of dialogue has the knowledgeable player feeling the blows that they know are going to come later on.
The game opens with a scene of Max and Chloe blowing up Barbie dolls in Chloe’s room and quickly follows with a reminder that for these two girls everything is soon going to change. The Max and Chloe we know and love from the first series of Life Is Strange seem an entire world away: but this is the prelude. This is the explanation for the estranged friends and the damaged, angry teenagers we have spent hours trying to figure out and empathise with.
Farewell is the first episode in all of the game series that finally makes the act of hunting through homes and belongings feel natural – Max and Chloe are hanging out together for the last time before she moves away to Seattle so it’s only natural that she would walk about the house looking at everything and reminiscing. During her exploration, the played hits upon items that bring back strong memories for the girls and some that bring back strong emotions for the player. Finding a report card showing almost all straight-A’s from a 13-year-old Chloe (who keeps all her textbooks) stands as a stark contrast from the high school dropout we play as later.
Being a choice-based game, even the choices the player is expected to make are painful. The only issue being that no matter if you choose to tell Chloe you’re leaving now, or tell her later, you don’t get the chance. The game is set up that you can make a difficult decision based on morals and personal feeling – only for it not to matter anyway.
The short 2-hour episode follows the girls as they delve back into their childhood, going on a pirate themed treasure hunt created by their 8-year old selves. The player once more takes control of Max, leading her through Chloe’s house to find the necessary items.
Walking through the house, Max picks up on certain possessions and information relating to the Price household that really make the player feel the blow that is to come. Chloe’s mother Joyce has dreams of becoming a teacher (dreams that are ultimately unrealised), her parents are supportive of her position at school and stand up for her – Chloe is a good student, she certainly isn’t a troublemaker. The small discoveries as we go through the upstairs rooms give nods to the fate of Chloe in later life and pack quite a punch when compared to how far she falls in the years to come.
The treasure hunt brings the girls through a series of short puzzles and out into the garden where both girls seem to be in a playful yet reminiscent mood: it appears Chloe is also ready to tell her best friend how much she loves her when it is perhaps least expected. And that’s the thing about this game – nothing happens when you expect it to.
Digging up the time capsule they left for themselves, the happy memories stored within are all too quickly darkened by current issues faced by the girls. Once more left to wander through the house looking over her childhood memories, Max stumbles upon a voicemail left by Chloe’s school about an incident that seems all too familiar to the experienced player. This opens up a dialogue between two hopeful 13-year old girls who promise to be there for each other and to not let the differences between pupils in school and their attitudes towards them affect their lives. A short, bittersweet conversation for two girls soon to become estranged and, for Chloe, to become everything she fears.
When the player is ready (when the player has looked at everything else and has no choice but to push the story further) they speak to Chloe once more, armed with the news that Max is soon to be leaving Arcadia Bay and her best friend behind. The conversation is heavy with emotion and really speaks for how much the two girls love each other; both have done their utmost to ensure the other is not upset and that their time together is the best it possibly can be. Agreeing to continue their day of fun, the girls leave on the promise and understanding that a change in city does not change their friendship.
And it is here that the player is once more reminded of how well the writers of Life Is Strange do their job. What immediately follows this heartfelt moment is one of sheer pain – one that the player may have been expecting from the beginning, but never like this. For the next few minutes we watch Chloe’s whole world being destroyed and almost everyone and everything she knows and loves leave her behind. We have no choice but to watch as she is hit with heartbreak after heartbreak, as her best friend leaves her in her highest time of need, and as we see the sweet, carefree 13-year old start to shut down and be replaced by the angry and broken girl we know from previous games.
It is with a heavy heart that the player has a chance to look over what is left: a painful, emotional goodbye from Max recorded on the machine used when they were children – Chloe and any semblance of the girl she was before left broken and curled on the floor. And then it is over.
We don’t often get to say goodbye in video games; and I wish we never had to.