After a few initial delays, Life is Strange Episode 2: Out of Time follows up nicely from the previous Episode released earlier in the year.
Refreshing revisiting players with a quick recap, which fits in nicely with the indie movie feel of the game, you awake at the start of the game as Max Caulfield, our heroine who has suddenly discovered she has the ability to rewind time, which for those of you who missed Episode 1, makes up the basic premise of the game.
Expanding on plot threads introduced in Episode 1, Max continues to explore Arcadia, find out a little more about Rachel Amber, and discover more about the nature of her powers and abilities with Chloe, walking a tight rope between teenage drama and supernatural thriller.
As mentioned in our review of Episode 1, the premise behind Life is Strange is that of choice, and how player choice has an impact on the world of the game. Interactions with characters result in conversation trees that branch out in a number of different ways, and depending on the way you want to play it each has an impact on the direction the game takes. Now usually with these sorts of games I can pretty much follow my moral compass and generally by the time the end credits roll I am happy with the overall outcome, but Life is Strange is different in so many ways, the first major one being the ability to rewind time. Not happy with how a conversation turned out? Rewind time and have it again, picking different options to decide which one you feel works better. This works and is used really well, subtle enough to still reinforce that your decisions matter, but applied so that you feel powerful enough to make a difference.
Life is Strange is full of sub-plots set in and around the town of Arcadia where the game is set, and Blackwell Academy, the school that Max attends. The usual teen angst drama and worry abound, but in Episode 2 some of them gain weight and earlier decisions made in Episode 1 have an impact on the relationships you have with your classmates in Episode 2, and thus the conversation options you are presented with. For example, a major subplot involves Kate, one of the less popular girls in school and a viral video that is doing the rounds about her. Staying away too much from what happens overall, very early on you can talk to Juliet, a girl you may or may not have decided to help in Episode 1. Depending on the option you picked earlier determines whether Juliet decides to pass the video of Kate on to others or not – a small immediate impact, but massive in the grand scheme of things and completely effected by your earlier decisions, whether you knew it or not. This is a nice touch, and a more obvious example of how earlier decisions played out. By the time the end credits roll you are presented with a stat screen showing the decisions you made and comparing you to the choices others did – again a nice touch, and it is interesting to see how many of the decisions that you made actually had a significant impact that would be felt later on, whether you knew it at the time or not.
The fact that your decisions have far-reaching consequences, most of which are hard to predict, adds further weight to the game, and a few conversations did have me stop and think – do I tell Kate to go to the Police, or to wait and find evidence? Later when she calls do I answer, or ignore her call for fear of upsetting Chloe? These choices do seem trivial when written down on paper, but each choice you make may have a small immediate impact, but then have a much bigger one way off down the line in ways that are hard to foresee or predict, and some of these have real emotional conflict attached – no spoilers here but lets just say the option to replay each Episode and change the end outcome is a welcome one, but it will still be interesting to see how my final decisions play out in the further 3 Episodes yet to come.
The game does a fantastic job at making you care about the story, but this is sometimes at the expense of the characters. As mentioned in our review of Episode 1, some of the dialogue can be grating and at times seem a little forced, which does take a little bit of overlooking once you realise what is trying to be achieved. It is clearly a very fine balancing act juggling all the plot threads together, and the dialogue seems to be the balance that holds everything in place – sometimes this works, sometimes it doesn’t, at times coming off as cheesy as you head towards a set outcome or plot point, which is a shame. Max is a likeable enough protagonist, but some of her inner monologues do wear thin, almost to the point were her strong independent actions are at a contrast to the weak self-doubt and worry she conceals, especially during the sections with Chloe, her childhood friend who she reconciled with in Episode 1. Yes, we get it, she feels guilty about not staying in touch with her when she moved away, but we don’t need slapped around the face with it every time we examine a completely unrelated item, and the gushing dialogue doesn’t seem to gel at times.
Overall Episode 2 picks up where Episode 1 left off, reintroducing and expanding on plot threads, subtlety adding to and introducing new ones (the Prescott family surely need to get their comeuppance as Arcadia’s big bad, surely!), while exploring Max’s newfound ability further. Having played both Episodes I did feel a little let down with the length of Episode 2, but am hooked in to the goings on in Arcadia enough to still look forward to returning and seeing what happens next when Episode 3 arrives in May.
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