Max's time travel abilities are a key element of Life is Strange whose discovery sets off the events of the game. Likely triggered by the shocking experience of seeing Chloe Price get shot in the girls' bathroom at Blackwell Academy, Max Caulfield's power manifests for the very first time in Episode 1 as she jumps back into Mark Jefferson's classroom and then discovers she can rewind time. Throughout the game's events, her powers develop and manifest in various ways; she has visions of the future, is able to stop time and can go back in time by focusing on photos of herself.
- Main article: Rewind
- Main article: Max's Visions
Max is able to see visions of and experience future events, but also appears to be physically present in the moment itself. The first and only vision she has seen (recurringly) is a tornado destroying Arcadia Bay. Those visions usually follow after Max passes out. Since during those visions Max isn't consciously in the present and physically experiences the future situation, its possible that those aren't just visions but rather time jumps.
Max has the power to freeze time while also being able to move. Though she cannot move through any living object such as humans and birds, she can open doors. Max discovers this ability during her attempt to save Kate from committing suicide, but the amount of concentration to maintain it is extremely harsh on her body, as seen by her being too weak to use her rewind power after she made it up to the roof.
Max can also pause time without being able to move. This ability comes in handy when she faces a difficult decision, mainly in dialogues. It is also essential during more serious situations, such as when she attempts to prevent something bad from happening, as it assures she will not pass the time frame of her rewind ability or doesn't have to witness the consequence of her (in)action. It is unknown whether Max's nose bleeds are the result of an accumulative use of pausing or whether a pause can be sustained indefinitely.[note 1]
Max has the ability to focus on any pictures she is present in. This allows her to teleport into her past self and change the course of events, leading to a timestream montage, in which the changes are shown with pictures. This ability is used several times throughout the game when Max needs to go to distant past moments.
Episode Three - "Chaos Theory"Edit
- Max discovers the ability for the first time. She focuses on a photo of her and Chloe from 2008 and prevents William from leaving the house and dying in a car crash.
Episode Four - "Dark Room"Edit
- Max focuses on the same photo of her and Chloe again to undo her actions and return to the original timeline.
Episode Five - "Polarized" Edit
- In an effort to escape from the Dark Room, Max focuses on a monochrome photo taken by Jefferson. She manages to kick a trolley, forcing Jefferson to take a different series of photos.
- Max focuses on a different photo of herself and finds her diary during the focus.
- She focuses on the selfie taken in Jefferson's class in "Chrysalis", warns David about Jefferson and hands in her photo for the Everyday Heroes Contest.
- Max uses her winning selfie in the Zeitgeist Gallery to return to the day it was taken and tear it up, preventing herself from winning the contest.
- She focuses on a photo of her and Warren taken in the parking lot to prevent Chloe from going to the End of the World Party and subsequently dying.
Time-Jump Mechanism and "Autopilot" Max Edit
When Max rewinds time without using a picture, she basically time-travels physically. Her body stays at the same place when she rewinds time. She erases the physical position of her old self and replaces it by a new one. To exterior people, it would seem Max teleported herself.
The mechanism involved with the time jumps through pictures is radically different: it involves Max's mind moving back and forth in time while her body doesn't.
Note: This whole auto-pilot process brings out some confusing points:
After the original 13-year-old Max was possessed by her 18-year-old self, how is she going to remember these few minutes when she hid the car keys (the "unresolved point in time")? Three possibilities:
- Max won't remember these few minutes and will go on living normally. It's not likely: a 13-year-old girl would probably freak out if suffering from amnesia.
- Max knows she was possessed and knows about her future time travel powers. Not really possible, it would affect the timeline way too much.
- Her brain will fill in the gaps with fake memories: 13-year-old Max will think she acted from her own will when she hid the keys, maybe thinking it was some kind of prank she doesn't clearly remember. This is the most likely scenario.
When a possessed Max warned Chloe on the parking lot, she said to Chloe that the auto-pilot Max that would follow wouldn't remember anything she said while possessed. Our Max couldn't have any way to know that for sure, but it would imply the first theory is actually correct: all auto-pilot Maxes have to deal with amnesia.
Is the fact the 18 year-old Max's mind took over the new 18 year-old Max's body (the one member of the Vortex Club) ethical? Even though the original 18 year-old Max is the one who created this new timeline, is it right for her to interrupt the life of the new "auto-pilot Max"? It probably bothered Max a lot since in the nightmare sequence, the Max ghost introduced herself as "one of the many Maxes she left behind" and she said "look at the trail of death you left behind". It could be interpreted as all the auto-pilot Maxes' lives "our" Max interrupted.
Life is Strange is basically the player following the journey of one iteration of Max's mind through time.
Side note: It is interesting to note that the first example of auto-pilot Max is the only one who doesn't have time-travel powers: this Max never saved Chloe in the bathroom. It confirms Max got her powers, or at least could only trigger them, by saving Chloe in the bathroom.
Time Jump Edit
While her rewind usually enables Max to reverse time without moving her body, she discovers her rewind ability the first time with a "jump" back in the Blackwell bathroom during the attempt of saving Chloe and then suddenly finds herself back in the classroom. In the Director's Commentary, Michel Koch said that they honestly don't have a good explanation for it. It could be a deeper manifestation of her rewind ability that requires a lot of energy — energy she was only able to muster in such a dramatic and stressful situation.
Using her power often causes Max to experience headaches or a physical breakdown, as seen in Episode 2 when Chloe Price forces her to rewind multiple times. When Max uses her photo jump ability, she often gets nose bleeding inside the photo boundaries or afterwards in the new timeline. However, player-triggered rewinds, regardless of how often, do not seem to have any impact on her.
- The game files indicate that the moment when Max focuses on a picture and travels back into that moment is called "Polarewind" (short for Polaroid rewind).
- When Max is "inside" a picture, a weird effect seems to define impassable boundaries around her referred to as "photo boundaries". The effect is called "Film Burn Particle" in the game files.
- The moment when Max is in her room and tears up her winning photo is the only time when the boundaries don't look like burning walls but like a burning sphere instead.
- Illustrator Florent Auguy refers to the timestream montages as "tunnel".
- ↑ The pausing of time and rewinds can be sustained for as long as the player sustains it as a game mechanic.
- ↑ Although freezing time was implemented as a game mechanic to give the player time to get Max into the dormitory building before Kate jumped, it is still a power that Max has, as stated by Raoul Barbet in this video from the Game Developers Conference (GDC) in 2016 - from the 22:02 time stamp. A visual cue that Max is using her power is her constantly extended right hand that remains in front of her as she walks slowly towards the building.
- ↑ Chart by User:Magiccarot.
- ↑ Reddit post by /u/AwesomeDewey
- ↑ Florent Auguy's ArtStation Profile