Life is Strange: Episode Two - Out of Time review: stand by me

Life is Strange is an episodic adventure game from Dontnod, whose previous game, Remember Me, was also its first.

Game Info
Box Art N/A
Platform N/A
Publisher Square Enix
Developer Dontnod Entertainment
Release Date Mar 24, 2015

In the style of most episodic games, Life is Strange relies on a choice-and-consequence narrative in which players take on the role of high school student Max Caulfield — a young woman with the power to rewind time. While the game focuses on Max's school life, it also sheds a light on her relationships and the mysterious disappearance of a local girl.

As Max, players navigate school life through a linear path, interacting with classmates, teachers and friends through choice-driven dialogue. But these decisions aren't set in stone; once a conversation is over, you can choose to "rewind" time. You can relive a scenario as often as you like with no consequence, though your powers only allow you to back up for a set amount of time.

To accommodate for the game's branching narrative, senior reporters Colin Campbell and Megan Farokhmanesh are reviewing the game together as a series of discussions. Below is their take on Episode Two: Out of Time.

life is strange

Colin Campbell

So Megan, did you go for the waffles or the omelette?

Megan Farokhmanesh

I’m usually a sucker for bacon in omelettes, but in this case, waffles all the way. I think that’s a serious choice that will come back to haunt me.

Colin: Me too. Yum.

I can’t figure out why I like this game so much. It’s not much of a drama. It’s barely even a game. But as a drama-y game or as a gamey drama, it seems to work. This episode wasn’t as smash-bang-wallop as the first, and yet it kept me interested all the way through. Why? It’s not like the mystery is all that captivating, the characters all that fascinating, the dialog especially scintillating. But I just really like inhabiting this world.

Megan: For me, a lot of it has to do with exploring something I so rarely get to see in video games — the world of a teenage girl. I like wandering around Max’s school and chatting with her friends, because I like waiting to see how she reacts to people. The friendship we see between Max and Chloe isn’t the bro-y bond I’m used to experiencing in games. It’s the little things that get me, like watching them hug after a tense moment, or hold hands as they wander across train tracks. It’s a different kind of intimacy; it’s not about romance. It’s just about the unbreakable bond you have with your best friend.

What I like about Life is Strange is that it explores friendship in a way that feels really fresh to me. Sometimes it’s full of drama, and sometimes it’s just normal. Boring, even. We saw both examples of that in Episode Two.

Colin: It’s smart of the designers to throw in very ordinary dialog choices, such as what to have for breakfast, along with more complex trees that dictate whether or not a person dies. I like just being this young woman, doing simple stuff, and, as you say, hanging out with other people.

It’s interesting to me that there are a lot of dialog choices that don’t feel like choices at all. Should I take this call from a friend in trouble or should I just be a total arse and ignore her? And yet, I’m dumbfounded at the end of the game, that so many people seem to opt for the non-choice, and probably play the game perfectly happily. This game is a revelation not merely of self, but of others.

It’s a different kind of intimacy

life is strange Square Enix/DONTNOD Entertainment

Megan: I sort of laugh when I get to those "non-choices" as well. The game tries so hard to guilt you into thinking perhaps you made the wrong move through Max’s internal dialogue, but I guess that’s necessary to keep up the drama of it all.

Moments like the one you mentioned — to take the call, or not take the call? — inspire a weird sort of nostalgia in me. Chloe getting mad that you’re not paying enough attention to her, for example. That is so a ~teenage thing~ I’ve dealt with. Your best friend may be just that, but they don’t always do what’s best for you, and they don’t always treat you as well as they should. I like that Chloe can be your friend, but still be a little selfish or ridiculous. She’s a flawed person, and it shows.

As far as choices go, it sounds like you and I walked a pretty similar path in this episode. That wasn’t quite the case in the previous episode. Were there any consequences of the first episode you took note of?

I also want to empathize with her, and sometimes that’s tough

Colin: Generally I stuck to my guns of not trusting anyone over the age of 20, except once, and I regretted the decision so much, I rewound right away.

Chloe is definitely the star of the show, along with Victoria and, in this episode, Kate, the religious girl, who seemed to me a genuinely complex and sympathetic character. Their self-obsession is absolutely convincing, so much so that it makes Max veer into paragon territory, which was an observation I made last episode.

Chloe, by contrast, comes across almost as a sociopath at times. I get that she is troubled and rebellious, but I also want to empathize with her, and sometimes that’s tough. But having never been a teenage girl, I am going to take your word that this is convincing stuff.

What did you think of the puzzles and the mini-games that made up the main central section of the episode?

life is strange

Megan: Oh, man. I have a lot of gripes about one puzzle in particular, which I will simply refer to as RETRIEVAL BULLSHIT. I spent a good 15 minutes or so grumbling and wandering around trying to find some very mundane objects for what felt like a very mundane reason. It really slowed things down for me in a way that felt unnecessary. The other puzzles, at least, push some kind of action — this character is in trouble, or these events are rapidly unfolding.

There was one mini-game in particular that I enjoyed for terrible reasons. It’s a really simple action-and-consequence kind of thing that has you rewinding a lot. There was one consequence I kept waiting for, and when it finally happened I practically shouted at my TV, "Well what did you expect, you idiots?"

Colin: There were a lot of really obvious scenes played out in this episode, some of these cliches are celebrating their centenary.

I was afraid of what would happen

The puzzles were basically about looking around for stuff, which I also found boring. During RETRIEVAL BULLSHIT I failed to follow a path the designers had laid out, and so was forced to begin the section again.

I get that the designers want to add interactivity to proceedings, but it was regrettable that they fell back on a shooting gallery on one. This is a game that is admirable because it’s daring to try new things, so I’m not impressed when it digs out hoary old standards, especially in ways that are so tired and obvious.

That said, the designers make good use of rewinding time in the memory game sections, which while simple in basic structure, were presented in a way that created excitement and a sense of mystery.

Megan: I totally dig the memory rewind sequences. It’s exactly the silly kind of thing I’d make my friend do if she tried to tell me she had super powers.

But wait, I want to, ahem, rewind for a moment and talk about Kate and Episode Two’s general theme. This was a really strong episode, I think, because it built in this mini-narrative about Kate dealing with bullying and viral videos. Obviously you get a sense of where she’s at emotionally when you talk to her, but I like the little asides — digging through Kate’s room (because Max is still a creep) and finding letters from her family, or eavesdropping on troublesome conversations she’s having with faculty.

It’s such a real problem, and such a scary thing. How do you deal with becoming a social pariah because of a single incident? Her situation was heartbreaking to me, and it made me want to look after her well-being.

The climax of Episode Two is one of the most compelling — and devastating — things I’ve ever experienced in a game, because it’s so real, so understandable. Dontnod nails it. I went from feeling in control of everything, superior and knowing, to utterly helpless. I was afraid of what would happen.

There is a real sense of peril and urgency in that section

life is strange Square Enix

Colin: There is a real sense of peril and urgency in that section, which relies entirely on dialog and emotional connections, while also reminding you of the importance of exploring this world, even in its most mundane locations.

There is an earlier scene, in which another woman’s life is in danger, in which I felt almost zero sense of fear or consequence. It’s instructive of just how difficult it is to create drama and character through button-pressing and well-travelled mechanics, and that great game experiences can come from just choosing to say exactly the right thing in the heated moment.

Here was a genuine moment of emotional attachment that crowned an exploration of an idea that is entirely contemporary. Unlike the hackneyed teeny slang, the theme of online bullying was explored superbly, with some extra foreshadowing involving Victoria, the nemesis.

Wrap Up:

Colin: We are starting to feel the fiber of layered relationships and motivations and this is Life is Strange’s achievement. Game developers are forever banging on about how much they admire television drama, but they rarely come close to replicating its narrative complexities. For all its shortcoming and irritations, Life is Strange dares to really try.

Megan: I liked Episode One of Life is Strange, but I loved Episode Two. Dontnod has taken an idea we’ve seen executed superbly in the past — choice and consequence through narrative-driven stories — and done something special with it. The game still has its moments of cheesy dialogue and archetypes that tip over the cartoon villain scale, but I see the potential to grow beyond that.

Life is Strange: Episode Two was reviewed using PS3 retail copies purchased by Polygon. You can find additional information about Polygon's ethics policy here.

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