Life is Strange Episode 2, subtitled Out of Time, suffers from the same lull that many episodic games fall prey to. For most of its runtime, Life is Strange Episode 2 pumps the brakes on the story's forward momentum. While Episode 1 was about establishing Max's place in the world and her new powers, Episode 2 expands her relationships and supporting cast, which is a slower and less exciting process.
The episode spends a considerable amount of time on Max rekindling her friendship with Chloe, which means we also learn a bit more about Chloe's current situation. Chloe's mother Joyce is a reasonable, loving figure who's just trying to get by in a small town. Her step-father David, who's also the school security guard, still has a creepy vibe, but Joyce's love and trust in him humanizes him a bit. The odd drifter with an RV and dog gets a name, Frank Bowers, and we find out that he, Chloe, and missing person Rachel, have crossed paths before.
Max and Chloe have a natural, believable friendship. Just two people doing the things young friends do: messing around, getting into trouble, getting out of trouble, and pondering where the future will take them. That's the successful part of Life is Strange's writing - making characters you'd expect to see in the real world - even if it breaks down with characters like Victoria or the Principal. There's even parts of the game that feel like they want to be weirder, like the janitor Samuel and visions of spirit animals. Graffiti that simply says "Fire Walk With Me", a reference to the Twin Peaks' prologue/epilogue film, points toward the idea that maybe Dontnod want us to see things as off-kilter, but the game hasn't quite sold me on that yet.
More importantly, Out of Time is all about Kate Marsh, the church-going student who finds herself the subject of a sexually-charged viral video. We already got hints of Kate's horrible plight in Episode 1, but in this episode we see the entire student body and her family turned against her. We also begin to understand how the situation came about in the first place, which brings our antagonists into clearer focus. Blackwell's golden boy Nathan Prescott has threatened Chloe, branded Kate with the Scarlet Letter, and his family is the reason behind the town's current run-down state. Until the culprit behind Rachel's disappearance is named, Nathan is the closest thing we have to a confirmed villain.
It's unfortunate that Out of Time has such horrible pacing issues. Max's time reconnecting with Chloe mostly involves proving to her how Max's powers work. This means a judicious amount of memorization and rewinding, and one scene where you have to wander around a junkyard in order to find five bottles. That scene pretty much stops the story in its tracks, as the last bottle is hidden in a small nook that most players will probably pass over a few times. Wandering a junkyard for 15 minutes isn't fun, it just feels like the busy work older adventure games used to throw your way.
Despite the pacing issues, when Life is Strange Episode 2 ramps up the tension, it works. One scene involves completing a set of actions before an oncoming train touches down, while another tests the limits of Max's powers in order to save someone's life. This latter section sees Dontnod also step up the visual representation of Max's abilities at their height.
To bring home the climax of this episode, the developer turns off your ability to rewind your choices for a limited period of time. Yeah, you only get one chance to make things right. Surprisingly, this doesn't feel like a cheat as the story has laid the groundwork for Max being unable to rewind time. I felt in Episode 1 that the rules of Max's powers were fluid depending on the situation, but Dontnod tries to rectify that a bit here. I'm glad to see it happening.
Episode 2 of Life is Strange is uneven. For stretches of time it merely feels like you're meandering along, doing things without any concrete meaning. Some scenes need to be there to strengthen the idea of Chloe and Max's friendship, but I don't necessarily need to be the one playing them. The player's actions should always be meaningful and satisfying, and that's not always the case in Episode 2. That said, when Out of Time needs to hit an emotional high, it succeeds. Now Dontnod just needs to make sure to keep things moving along at a brisk pace.
The Nitty Gritty
- Visuals: Life is Strange looks pretty good, but the lip-syncing is awful. There's also the occasional detail that looks off, like blurry textures.
- Sound: The game's score is composed by Syd Matters' Jonathan Morali, with music from some alternative acts.
- Interface: The interface really does feel like a teenager's sketchbook.
- Lasting appeal: The rewind mechanic means you'll experience most of the episode in one playthrough. Not much more to see beyond that.
Life is Strange slows down in Episode 2 as is attempts to flesh out the relationships of our heroine and those around her. The pacing is off, featuring some scenes with high emotional tension and others with boring meandering. It feels stronger than Episode 1 because you're beginning to care about the cast, but Dontnod needs to work on not killing the story's momentum.
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