Spoilers abound! You've been warned!
The very first episode of the new season of Life is Strange—Before the Storm—doesn't take too long to reveal that unambiguously queer characters are here in Arcadia Bay, and they are out and proud. About an hour into the prequel, Chloe (Max's best friend/maybe more from the first game, and the protagonist here) meets Steph, a fellow student at Blackwell Academy (and also a rad Dungeon Master) who makes it clear that she likes girls.
This is refreshingly upfront for a series that has always had very strong queer subtext—the relationship between Chloe and Max in the first game was extremely emotional, and there was even the possibility of a kiss—but it was written in such a way that, yeah, you could kind of see them just being close platonic friends. This first meeting with Steph is a statement that, right upfront, the developers here aren't afraid of writing canonically queer characters, even if you don't necessarily play Chloe that way.
Oh, but you can, dear reader. You super can. And that is fantastic.
The core relationship in the game is between Rachel Amber and Chloe. Rachel is kind of the queen of the school—she gets good grades, she's the star of the drama club, and everyone seems to love her. She's privileged: a well-to-do, pretty white girl. Chloe is the school delinquent—not doing well in her classes, struggling at home and reeling from her father's death, already a heavy drinker at 16 (or so). But the girls meet at a (probably 21+) show, get into a little trouble together, and form a bond that is immediately "are they or aren't they?" Importantly, the game forces you to make that decision and live with it, instead of teasing you with the mere possibility.
After spending a day with Rachel, the girls have a fight. You—the player—have to choose right then and there whether Chloe has romantic feelings for Rachel or not—and she blurts them out.
I loved Max and Chloe's relationship in the first game. It was realistically intense and raw and in many ways, felt real. It sat right, the way two young women on the cusp of adulthood might come together, confusion, ambiguities and all.
But I also love that there doesn't have to be ambiguity in Awake. You can have Chloe declare there is something much more than friendship going on here.
That Rachel doesn't immediate cower under a protective shield of "I'm straight! Please get your gay cooties away from me!" was enormous. I was steeling myself for the old "gay-bait and heartbreak" routine, which, hell, could still happen, there are still two episodes left. And no, the scene isn't exactly subtle (as Patrick said is his own piece, it does feel a tad rushed), but teenage feelings aren't known for being subtle either. I speak from experience when I say that things can get very dramatic between two high school girls in love.
There is a lot of realistic awkwardness between the girls. They flirt—or pseudo-flirt—then pause in awkward silence. In one close moment, Chloe notices that Rachel smells like lilac, then immediately wonders if Rachel is smelling her, then she cringes and wishes she took a shower that morning. That mix of excitement, self-awareness, and disgust is perfect. That's what it feels like, when you're young, unsure of yourself, and especially unsure of the other person.
Wondering whether your crush likes you back—or, say, whether her asking for help when she changes clothes means something or if it's just your imagination. The inner monologue when you just can't believe you're spending time with that one person who makes your heart jump into your throat—these things are achingly, hilariously real.
Life is Strange has always been very good at capturing the tumult of young, intense emotions. I'm so glad that the new season is continuing that tradition, and allowing players to… well, to play gay all the way if they so choose.