by C. Nuan
The second fallacy is similar and occurs when Max pops into the past to save Chloe’s dad. As long as Max takes William’s keys, the timeline should change. Although it’s amusing to chuck the keys out the back door, as far as we know, it’s not actually necessary. William is involved in a car crash caused by external forces (most likely another driver, but possibly an animal or pedestrian in the road); therefore, if he leaves the house later for any reason, he should be driving in traffic patterns different from that of the accident. Unless Arcadia Bay’s traffic lights are awkwardly long, Max’s stalling and William’s prolonged search should ensure he putters out into a whole new world… or at least a world a few minutes different.
Sure, this could mean that the accident occurs to another beloved Arcadia Bay resident; or, more tragically, William’s delay could somehow result in harm to Joyce. But, we’ll never know. A valid excuse for Max’s actions might be panic yet again, with her flinging the keys into the yard (or the sink) in a frenetic state. And also, nothing suggests that William leaving later in his own vehicle would prevent the accident that eventually cripples Chloe in this alternate timeline. So, this fallacy’s more forgiving in the greater narrative picture; but, it demonstrates an underestimation of time’s impact.
And so we land upon Dontnod’s dirty habit (nothing too kinky and no muddy nuns, as far as we know). The studio tends to focus on aesthetics and game mechanics, which has generated worlds with delicious depth and intriguing puzzles! But, that’s somewhat at the cost of story and player agency. Although the stories introduce engaging premises and enthralling plotlines, momentum is often thwarted by game mechanics. Essentially, the story stumbles as it tries to apply and, particularly, spotlight these features.
For instance, is there any reason why the events with Chloe’s dad couldn’t have concluded with Max simply holding onto the keys and stalling? Events should still change, and the only reason to require tossing the keys into the yard (or the sink, if you have to go with the less cruel option) would be to force the player to use the rewind ability again. Optimistically, these actions could’ve had an amusing payoff in the future of this instance–either Chloe recalling soapy keys in the sink or Max stumbling across crusty keys in the backyard; but, neither happens, and the story sees little impact from either choice because the focus is the mechanic, not the player’s solution to the puzzle or the narrative. A couple of other examples include not being able to snoop through Brooke’s backpack until after being insulted and not being able to confront Dana before man’dling her pregnancy test.
Life is Strange isn’t the first game to emphasize game mechanics over player agency; but, other games in the genre have been more subtle about it, and mechanics are often highlighted with good reason. For instance, not skinning kills in Assassin’s Creed III seems a rather extreme reason for a desynch, but the mechanic feeds into a crafting and market system that was new to the franchise at the time. The penalty ensured players weren’t floundering for resources throughout the game, and it also emphasized the main character’s background. Recent TellTale games feature a similar illusion of choice overall, but they integrate mechanics naturally and rarely prevent player interaction for the convenience of plot priorities. Additionally, narrative is so strong in most TellTale games that most scenarios seem feasible and account for a range of play styles.