Life is Strange: Episode 2 review

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It seems like an age ago that I reviewed the first episode of Life is Strange. Dontnod’s foray into serialised gaming was by general consensus, a good start to the developing story of Max Caulfield and her mysterious time-reversing powers. If you don’t know, or need a quick recap, I’d suggest nipping over here to re-read the first review (you read it first time out, right?). Episode 2 of this 5 episode series came out on the 24th of March & I had the opportunity to reacquaint myself with Arcadia Bay and its residents.

Episode 2, Out of Time, begins pretty much where the first episode left off. It’s the next day and Max has been trying to get a half decent night’s sleep. You’re placed in Max’s dorm-room and you are left pretty much to some of your own devices in this area. It’s a good opportunity to reaffirm the controls in your mind, remind yourself of the way the game presents the interactive elements and to sit, chill out and play the guitar for a little bit.

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It’s not long before you’re presented with your first key choice, as the story introduces you further to the plight of Kate Marsh. This is an interesting aspect for the narrative to develop as it involves the social stigma of bullying. Kate has been indiscreet in an online video, but Max suspects something sinister of one of the social club party organisers, Nathan Prescott. There’s some eavesdropping involved and a decision needs to be made before you can move on with your day. A smart transitional scene later, where Max’s music serves as the time-lapse for her travel, and you’re introduced to a new location.

This location and the next thing on your agenda is a breakfast at Chloe’s mum’s café, with Chloe. Even though you’ve been given a time to meet Chloe, the game itself isn’t insistent that you’ve got to be there as and when it wants. You’re pretty much free to roam once you’re there, so take the time to do so, you won’t regret it. This portion of the episode concentrates on Chloe and Max’s relationship as they look to explore Max’s time-shifting powers. This also introduces the effect that all of this time-dabbling is having on Max’s physical health, which may well become a factor in later episodes. Here you’ll be presented with a memory puzzle or two to solve, so take notes.

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Here also, it will become clear how much of an emotional crutch Max will be expected to be for Chloe and how much responsibility lies on the shoulders of one as young as Max. It’s evident that older characters see Max as more of an adult than her years would betray. In some respects, this is less believable than some of the adult’s reactions to the events going on around them, and in other respects, it shows that these self-same adults are willing to give Max the benefit of the doubt that her ‘old head on young shoulders’ deserves.

The café is the first of two new locations in this episode, with the other being the adventurous but excitable Chloe’s secret hideout. Here more than ever, you’ll see the contrast between the erratic Chloe and the more grounded Max. It’s also here that you’ll get to go and collect some things for Chloe. This, in truth, is slightly aimless, but it does serve a purpose or two other than just to fulfill the whims of your friend. It not only gives Max the opportunity for a little self-reflection, it also gives her the chance of a little insight into the relationship between Chloe and the missing girl, Amber. The alternative, obviously, would have been to talk to Chloe about her and simply have to click-through it so in reality, you’re looking at the lesser of two evils.

So the collecting mechanic is slightly aimless, but doesn’t allow the story to wander; indeed, the game doesn’t allow Max to wander either, as I tested the limits of how far the game would allow you walk around. It’s safe to say that when the game wants you to stay somewhere, you’ll stay there. After a brief but interesting encounter with one of Chloe’s creditors and a passing locomotive, Max has to head back to school. The skies start to darken, perhaps reflecting the seriousness of the events that are about to unfold at Blackwell.

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This final portion of the episode reveals some more of the inner politics of the social structure of Blackwell Academy. To pass the time before your only lecture that day, you get to help another of Max’s close friends, Warren, as he struggles with an experiment. Then it’s off to speak to your photography tutor and your lesson. It’s here when things kick off, in a big way. All of the commotion, and Kate being in an emotional state leads Max to try to use her powers to save Kate’s life. The health issues then get somewhat in the way, proving that Max isn’t the superhero she’d like to be, the superhero that Chloe is building her up to be, and it’s up to the choices you make that will ultimately decide Kate’s fate.

Max’s inner morality battle sometime tries to get you to rewind to change your mind and it’s a sympathetic urge to whip that trigger that might steel your nerve or shoot it dead. Things as mundane as taking a phone call or not can have an impact on later events, so it’s up to you to choose wisely. Some events can be reversed, some can’t. The episode concludes depending on whether Kate’s been saved, I’d imagine in the Principal’s office, where the gravity of the situation seems to have finally hit the beleaguered head of the Academy like an elephant pushed out of a helicopter without a parachute. To top it all off, there’s an unexpected event that no-one seems to have predicted, leaving even the scientific Warren perplexed.

There are a lot of things to do, again, in this episode, which are incidental to the main plot. There are lots of opportunities for photos, just as in the first episode, most of which I think I missed, so another play-through is definitely on the cards I think. If nothing more, but to see if I can actually save Kate this time, through the ever-so-slightly tenuous dialogue, delivered as ever by the same voice-actors as in “Chrysalis”.

The good news is that this dialogue has improved, if only slightly. There’s a lot less “hella” which did grate a little on the nerves in the first episode. The graphics are pretty much the same as the first episode, there’s little in the way of new to report on that front, and the game runs along to a complimentary and unobtrusive soundtrack featuring the likes of Alt-J. These won’t leave the most lasting impression though. The lasting impression you’ll have is that nagging feeling that you’ve not made the right choices in the course of the episode, and what impact will those choices have on the next episode? You’re going to have to wait until May at least to see.

Thanks to Square Enix for supplying TiX with a download code

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A lifelong gamer, staring at the wrong side of the forties, I'm a huge Halo series fan. Started gaming way back in the days of the Amstrad CPC464. Midlander through birth, married with son, COD virgin, so be gentle. Twitter: @PhilK_TiX