Life is Strange Episode 2 Review: Losing Time
Ben Sheene / Jun 8th, 2015 No Comments
As I finished Life is Strange Episode 2 I was left reeling. The episode, titled “Out of Time,” rockets towards an emotional conclusion that will shake all but the most jaded players. After the initial shock wore off there was only one thing I wanted to do: go back to Episode 1, make new choices and see what would become of these characters.
Dontnod Entertainment‘s series has shown promise since the beginning. The studio’s attempt to inject a new kind of life into the point-and-click, story-driven episodic genre offers a unique spin on players living with their choices. While many of the flaws from Episode 1 remain, it’s obvious that players are in for a powerful journey.
Hero of Time
When we last saw Max Caulfield she had returned to her hometown of Arcadia Bay, Ore. after a five year absence. She’s studying photography at the prestigious Blackwell Academy, a school full of stereotypical, cookie-cutter students. Jocks, geeks, mean girls, rich kids — all social circles Max hadn’t quite nestled into.
Then, in a life or death situation, Max discovers she has the power to rewind time. She uses this to save her childhood friend Chloe from being shot. The core of Episode 1 focused on establishing the narrative of Max and her powers, and her life at Blackwell Academy. A few threads were thrown in about the elite Vortex Club, Chloe’s security officer step-dad harassing students, and a creepy motor home parked next to Blackwell.
As players’ introduction to Life is Strange comes to a close, two major threats come to light. In a matter of days (likely by Episode 5) a massive tornado is about to destroy Arcadia Bay. A brief visit to the future caused Max to see the event with her own eyes, but she is left without any clue on how to stop it. Then there’s Rachel Amber, the beautiful girl that nearly everyone loved. She has gone missing without a trace. It seems that Rachel took Max’s place as Chloe’s best friend and Chloe doesn’t believe that Rachel simply left town without her.
Toying with Time
For a teenage girl, it’s a lot to handle. Though the mystery of Rachel and the threat of a tornado loom over Arcadia Bay, Episode 2 concerns itself to more immediate matters. It should come as no surprise then that Chloe is absolutely fascinated with Max’s abilities and the two spend a good part of the episode playing around with time manipulation. Players control Max as she rewinds time, recalling events at the local diner in an attempt to prove to Chloe she really can go back in time. Like previous puzzles, it’s very simple in execution and only requires a little memory recall on the part of the player.
These puzzles play out as bonding moments between Max and Chloe. Whether it’s identifying what’s in Chloe’s pockets or coaching her how to fire a gun at bottles, Max and the player are forging a relationship with their long-lost friend. Despite reconnecting in Episode 1, the five-year rift between the two is wide. Players may want to see Max develop a strong bond with Chloe, but doing so also means making choices that cater to her wild side. The pacing of the episode is fairly relaxed in these moments, allowing Dontnod to inject the major characters with more backstory and exposition.
About halfway through, we meet Frank (who, along with Chloe’s mother Joyce, are the only new characters we meet), a creepy guy who Chloe owes a lot of money to. He’s a drug dealer who has some sort of connection to Rachel. With Frank’s introduction the mystery of Chloe and Rachel comes to a brief head, but it soon settles back down. After an encounter with saving Chloe’s life from a train using her powers, Episode 2 begins to wrap up.
Life or Death
As expected, Dontnod didn’t resolve the sometimes distracting lip-syncing issues. Coupled with dialogue that comes off as an adult trying to sound like a teen, it can be a chaotic mix. For such a dialogue-heavy game, there’s potential to be problematic. Thankfully the majority of the voice acting is still on point and the game contains enough emotion to hold players’ attention.
In fact, the biggest problem with Episode 2 may be its length. There are only a handful of scenes lasting a little longer than an hour depending on how much exploring is done. There is a brief moment at the school, the diner, the train yard and back to Blackwell. By the episode’s end, players will likely be left wanting a few more moments between Max and Chloe or with the rest of the student body at Blackwell.
However, part of the rapid pace has to deal with how Episode 2 ultimately ends. The underlying story of this section of Life is Strange focuses on Max’s friend at Blackwell, Kate Marsh. In Episode 1, we see Kate being picked on by some of the students and harassed by Chloe’s step-dad. Episode 2 picks up with the player learning that a viral video has been going out of Kate at a Vortex Club party acting very unlike the Christian persona she puts on. Students relentlessly tease her and no teacher is listening, Max seems to be the only person who cares. Of course, much of that is in the hands of players.
Back to the Past
During the exchange of dialogue and what other characters reference, players will already begin to see the repercussions of their previous decisions. One important function to the second episode in any kind of serialized game series is to start showing the weight of decisions. It was hard to see just how Dontnod would incorporate player choice into future episodes, but based on early ramifications in Episode 2, it’s obvious that small events create big ripples.
Max’s ability to rewind time allows players to choose different dialogue options or change big decisions, all while being able to see the immediate cause and effect. It’s a brave departure from the “live with it” attitude of other titles. In Life is Strange, players can effectively choose the “right” thing, or whatever they feel is the best decision. It is only until one of the final moments of the game that Dontnod brilliantly strips players of that power.
After returning to class at Blackwell, some kind of commotion erupts at the girls’ dormitory causing all the students to rush over to see what is happening. Max arrives only to watch as Kate Marsh jumps from the top of a building to her death. Over and over she attempts to reverse time to no effect. The stress of using her powers throughout the day has been causing her nose to bleed, this time leaving her powers useless. One final, desperate attempt leads to Max discovering a new power: the ability to stop time completely. The framing of this entire scene is done beautifully and clings at the player’s heart. Max makes it to Kate and pleads with her not to jump. It is here she realizes her powers are completely sapped and she must do it on her own.
For the first time in Life is Strange, players are completely stripped of the game’s core mechanic and must find a way to convince Kate not to jump. The conversation tree reflects past decisions and how attentive players were to Kate as she was going through her difficult time. In light of the game’s often clumsy writing, all effort of the entire episode focused on this one crucial moment. Does Kate live or die? Every exchange between Max and Kate on the roof sees Kate inching closer and closer to the edge, heightening the drama and tension. The topic of bullying, rape and suicide are heavy. Here they are handled with care while still remaining an emotional gut punch. Not allowing Max to right a wrong dialogue option gives the situation gravity and shocks the player through the episode’s final major decision of who to point the finger of blame at.
The first thing I wanted to do after completing Episode 2 was hit restart, try again and do something different. And it wasn’t because I failed to save Kate. It was because Life is Strange presented itself with this incredible, heartbreaking moment. I began to care even more for the characters and how my choices transformed their lives. Imagining what lies in store for the remaining three episodes is difficult. “Out of Time” was a bit rushed but it was a rush into something transitory, scary and exciting. I can’t wait to see how the rest turns out.
Life is Strange was reviewed on PS4 using a code for the game provided by the publisher.
tags: dontnod entertainment , Life is Strange , Life is Strange Episode 2 , Life is Strange Review , review , square enix