I’ve played all Life is Strange has to offer. I love it. It was unlike any other narrative experience I’d had previously. It took the idea of ‘choices matter’ and ran with it, they don’t just matter – they are the game. I felt the same wonder during the First Episode of Life is Strange 2, becoming as easily endeared to Sean and Daniel as I did Max and Chloe. So, I eagerly awaited the January 24th release of the Second Episode, just wanting to get my teeth stuck into it for a full evening.
I shouldn’t have had so high hopes.
Episode 2’s Premise
Life is Strange is wholly about narrative, it is the foundation on which everything else is built. It’s a lot like a movie in this respect, an interactive movie. Because of this, the premise essentially makes or breaks the deal – good or bad. Life is Strange 2 set up a very solid premise in the First Episode. It’s engaging, and for the most part, it makes sense. It is of course also emotionally driven, as expected from Dontnod. And this is key, because without emotion, Life is Strange would be a husk. It’s vital we feel connected to the characters in some way or other.
LiS 2’s Premise Has problems…
Episode 2 follows Sean and Daniel two weeks after the end of Episode 1. This is where the first issue occurs: You are required to read Daniel’s sketchbook/diary to know what has happened during that time. This isn’t prompted anywhere in UI. The two-week gap is alluded to only once as a passing comment in conversation. I understand it allows time for Daniel’s powers to strengthen, and therefore progress the story. However, why is this merely exposition? Why couldn’t Daniel’s training, treks to the town, and time spent at the cabin with Mushroom be its own episode – be Episode 2? With an entire forest and town to explore, there would be enough space for random encounters, conflicts. But instead, we’re offered what feels like a too-early interlude in Sean and Daniel’s quest.
Sean and Daniel’s Grandparents
They exist only as a narrative device to offer information about Sean and Daniel’s Mother, they serve no other real purpose. It’s possible you could argue they ground Daniel, make him more manageable, less on edge. But it’s no effect that required them specifically, another character could have done that – it could have been part of next episode’s ‘train journey’. What annoyed me the most was the disconnect from logic: Two grandparents letting their young grandchildren run off into the wild, in sub-zero temperatures, with no money, and the police chasing them. Who in their right mind would allow this? It’s convenient for the plot, that’s all.
There is no logical situation where that makes sense…
Everything in Life is Strange 2: Episode 2 is predictable. Choices appear muted when the outcomes are so obvious. It feels far more linear than it should. A ‘choices matter’ game where the choices are simply variations of the same things… This is one of my biggest gripes with the episode, there’s little autonomy to speak of, and I don’t believe this suits the series well given what we’ve already experienced.
I understand Life is Strange is all about narrative, characters, and the morality behind the decisions they (you) choose to make. However, it still needs to be confident in other, technical areas. Just as it is with graphics – for the most part, having unique and aesthetically pleasing art direction. However, audio is just as important. Recent releases like Battlefield V and Hellblade show how integral it is to the gameplay experience. Life is Strange 2 doesn’t have good audio, it’s that simple. And Episode 2 was much worse than I remember Episode 1 being.
From the opening scene, there is a distinct and noticeable lack of ambient sound. This is especially apparent when characters are speaking. Voices are too clean and unaffected by environmental factors; I can imagine actors stood in a recording studio reading off lines into a mic. Nobody sounds like they’re in-game; be it a room, or a woodland, or the middle of a Christmas sale. It wrenches me out of the moment, breaking immersion. And in a game like Life is Strange, immersion is everything. So when you’re in a thin-walled cabin in the middle of the forest, you might expect a little more sound than the odd bird chirp – nature is loud, after all.
I don’t expect new in-depth features, or any game-changing mechanics, but there are already things which could be expanded upon – which I thought would be expanded on. One of these is the ‘money’ in Sean’s backpack. Why can’t this be fleshed out? The gas station segment in the First Episode was especially memorable – choosing to steal or not, what to steal, what might be needed, and what was only luxury. This very well might become a more integral feature as the following three episodes play out. If not, it would be a missed opportunity. It is an element of survival which cannot be escaped, so run with it, rather than it being simply something on the side.
The choice mechanic at times could be ‘refined’. During Episode 2 there were a number of instances when conversations were out of context. When something at been discussed beforehand (usually moments before), yet cropped up again as if the conversation were new. It was another one of those things that make you say “oh yeah, I remember, this is a game”, breaking what immersion there was to offer.
All in… Episode 2 wasn’t particularly enjoyable. It remains LiS, and that’s never a bad thing. But when it could be so much more, I’m left wondering why it wasn’t? Why it feels like it could be Episode 2.5, rather than the ‘real thing.’ I’ll remain hopeful for Episode 3. The train journey seems like it could be interesting .
What did you think of LiS2: Episode 2?
Thanks for reading!