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Life is Strange Episode 2 Review

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Episode 2: Out of Time

I was quite taken with my initial impressions of Life is Strangethe episodic game that’s part modern adventure and part Choose Your Own Adventure, but there’s a part of me that acknowledged many works have started with fantastic openings and fall short at the end.  In fact, much of the first episode was probably how the game was pitched for development.  Typically the second outing, especially in the case of episodic titles, give us a much better feeling of what the overall title is going to be like and allows us to gauge how effectively or ineffectively the unwinding story and gameplay goals are executing.  It’s also important to note that almost universally the second episode is hit with the largest amount of criticism and negative feedback, if only because it’s a focused burst of reality on the high hopes of the first episode, but also because it’s an awkward in-between time for the plot.  I wish I could say Life is Strange overcomes this potential hitch, but it does appear that like most of the others it just doesn’t quite pack the punch of the first.

life_is_strange_ep2_1When we pick up with Max, a lot has been dropped on our plate at the end of the first episode.  In a predictable but thankful way the first half of the episode is rather mundane, although the basic functions of getting started with your day and dropping by dorm mates had some surprising depth.  A new side story is introduced that is so mainstream to these characters you have to take a moment and wonder if you missed this plot point in the first episode – I checked by replaying just before I started on this one, it’s not there.  The plus side to this sudden new turn of events is it gives Dontnod excuses to have you speaking with people you know well and seemingly just caught up with in the first episode, which does come with it all that teenage angst, hypocrisy, and childlike behavior that I enjoyed from the first episode.  On the other hand, it also puts you in an odd position depending on how you treated this character in the first episode because regardless of whether you were friendly, her protector, or just plain apathetic towards her you are suddenly appointed to closer friend and protector given this new news.  I may be crazy here, but I’m betting it doesn’t usually work that way with teenage girls in real life and it definitely didn’t work for this teenage boy in his life.  You are the center of your universe as a high school senior so someone’s downfall or emotional distress is either viewed as something you’d like to avoid or competition with your problems (or both), but never a call to action.  It was even more odd that while you could be different degrees of concerned, you couldn’t be dismissive.  This comes full circle at the end of the episode but given spoilers I’ll just say that this was the first instance where I learned that Dontnod is willing to etch the game to my decisions, but it isn’t going to let me avoid watching the side effects.  It’s hard to dissect without getting specific, but suffice to say if I ignore a person most of the time they are going through a rough patch, I don’t understand why I would be in the situation at the end, although the concerned hero types will definitely feel satisfied.  And that’s when I suddenly realized that painful truth I had been trying to ignore: there’s a path the developers want me to take and they aren’t going to make it worthwhile to wonder off that path.

life_is_strange_ep2_3Major drama aside I was also pleased to see that some of the plotlines from the last episode progressed slightly whereas others were almost absent completely.  Since these points were large parts of the first episode I’m sure these were conscious decisions, but probably the most blaring of the progressing plots was washed over quite loosely.  That’s not to say it won’t become more focal at a later point in time, but I don’t think the developers get it both ways – making me suddenly focus 100 percent attention on someone I may not have been that aware of while also brushing off this dangerous situation in my own life.  I also felt that the biggest part of the episode, another day with Chole, was lacking on all fronts.  Max (your character) and Chole get too familiar in a short period of time, especially for two people who have had a lot of pent up aggression about the breakup of the friendship five years ago.  This goes double when Chloe starts having Max do time travel parlor tricks and then putting her in situations she’s not comfortable with, it’s too fast to simply trust her like you would your problematic best friend.  They just aren’t there anymore.

life_is_strange_ep2_2I also hated the way the world looked at these girls and the apparent suggestion, whether conscious or not, that females in high school need protecting.  It just didn’t seem natural.  By the time I was eighteen and wrapping up high school, people had started to allow me to make my own decisions and mistakes.  Sure, I might have been stopped by a parent or teacher if I was going to do something blatantly harmful or that would affect my future, but otherwise things like heading downtown to catch a show were my decisions to make (even if my parents were worried sick).  That’s not the case here, instead Max is for some unknown reason set as the protector and righter or wrongs in the whole episode.  Even at the very beginning, you have an arbitrary opportunity to prevent Alyssa from getting bullied by warning her of someone about to pick on her, which is what you did in the first episode as well.  Alyssa is upfront in both episodes that she’s used to bullying and can handle herself, but to not warn her in both instances results in a sulking and depressed Alyssa.  Clearly you are supposed to “protect” her by warning her, which just struck me as a bit too parental.  The same is true of this character going through some issues (really forcing myself not to use her name here); it’s fine if a person in trouble comes to you for help or you let them know you’re there for them, but it seems out of character to pry and then start a crusade in their name.  This is also true of Chloe, where her mother asks you to protect her and see her safe as well as a situation later on where you literally have to protect her.  This is weird because of all the people that can handle herself, the life that Chloe has led up to this point suggests that she’s much more capable of protecting herself rather than you.  As the father of a young daughter I worry every day about the outside factors that my daughter will be subjected to in her teens, but I also acknowledge that overbearing parenting or the full protection model is probably the worst way to prepare her for the real world.  As a result, even if it means me getting an ulcer, I’ll probably have to let her learn these skills and make these mistakes on her own, especially when she’s topped eighteen and isn’t in school anymore.  Whatever your parenting opinions may be, it’s pretty clear that someone on the writing staff not only has a younger or teenage daughter, but that they are having serious insecurities about that girl’s ability to get along in the world.  This sadly bleeds into the whole thesis for the episode and I found myself noticing it without even trying, then being unable to ignore it once I did.

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It’s not all bad, though, because this is only the second episode after all.  Life is Strange still retains these strong characters, despite some of them being a bit too vulnerable this time around, and it still captures that daydream feeling of zoning out to some music that you literally did as a teenager and literally do in this game.  While I might not agree with some of the tones, the plot does continue to progress and I’m genuinely still hooked to finding out how it all goes down.  With the new storylines presented and only mild touches on the plots of episode one, it appears there may be more branching plots and a wider scope to Max’s life than I thought.  There is a decent amount of point-and-click problem solving that is not only unnecessary but made me roll my eyes because this great backtracking system was being wasted on finding the right way to grab a bottle or performing a stupid act I knew would result in self injury just because I could undo the mistake.  Still, this title seems to have more merit to your decisions than The Walking Dead or even Mass Effect ever did because the end of episode two can be drastically different based on several decisions you made since the beginning of the game.  I’ve been playing each episode with two personalities that are almost opposite one another and discovering the interesting differences along the way, but I was a bit annoyed to find the information and plot points to be much more similar and streamlined this second time around.  Hopefully in the third episode some balance between not knowing central important plots based on decisions and being forced into every situation regardless of them.  As it stands, some flaws are beginning to emerge but it’s in no way hindering my piqued interest in the overall season and without sounding too negative, I was expecting this.  With episode three we will get to see a more comprehensive look at what the whole season has to offer and I’m betting that like most other episode games, I will likely be more impressed.  Only time will tell.

Final Score: 3 out of 5 (review policy)  – This episode, much like the first, took 3 hours to initially complete and a replay was almost the same time at almost three hours as well.

Given that this game is episodic, this review will continue to build upon itself per episode.  Posts of each episode will go on the main page individually but this link will stand as the comprehensive review for all episodes.  Each episode will be given its own score initially, but the comprehensive review will have an overall score that will update with each episode (and may not necessarily reflect an average of the scores as this is not the method to scoring).  This game was purchased by the reviewer and played on PC, however it is available on Xbox 360, Playstation 3, PC (including Steam), Xbox One, and Playstation 4 at a price of $4.99 for Episode One and $19.99 for the entire five episode run.  It is assumed that episodes will be available individually for $4.99 each.

Written by Fred Rojas

May 18, 2015 at 11:00 am

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