Life is Strange: Episode 2 - Out of Time
Life is Strange is taking chances by tackling issues of abuse, loss, and depression - not your typical video game plot material. I love that Dontnod is attempting to confront these sensitive topics, but they're also very hard to portray accurately and responsibly. The second episode bites off more than it can chew, putting you on an emotional rollercoaster exposing you to all kinds of traumatic events. While some scenes end up raw and honest, a lot more are frustrating due to the extremism of the world and the mixed messages sent about how to handle these complicated subjects.
The episode gets off to strong start, exploring more about Maxine's mysterious power to rewind time. Weird occurrences have surfaced, like a snowfall in the middle of eighty-degree weather, and Maxine is investigating it with the help of her friends. My favorite parts are when they break into theories, pointing to quantum physics. Maxine is also finding out her powers have some limitations, which becomes even more interesting later in the story. Her ability can't always save her from harsh circumstances, and these moments are the most interesting in the episode.
When not trying to figure out what's at the root of her power, Maxine handles the cruel and corrupt world before her. She sees bullying, extortion, and violence in her day-to-day life. A social group called the Vortex Club has become all the rage, but secrets about drugs and sex lurk below the surface, and Maxine is determined to get the root of it. The whole set-up is absurd. At times, I felt like I was watching a poorly written teenage drama on The CW. Everything functions to increase the melodrama, even if it's outlandishly unrealistic. The first episode had some clichés, but the second goes so far that it's difficult to take seriously.
The extremism of the circumstances and characters is the most frustrating part. Authority figures don't respond to situations as they should, ignoring the obvious in front of them. This can happen in reality, but almost every adult in Life is Strange does this. It gets so bad that I declined to report something important to an adult or professional, because I knew how they would react. This sends a horrible message to those dealing with hard situations such as abuse or suicidal thoughts. Maybe some of the "supernatural" occurrences will come to explain the adults' ignorance, but it feels like Maxine is the only rational person in the game. Even her good friend Chloe has odd reactions, like getting mad at Max for not resorting to violence.
Life is Strange is best in its small moments. For instance, some great dialogue occurs between Maxine and Chloe's mom over the loss of Chloe's dad and how it impacted her. Maxine also shines in dealing with a friend who's on the brink of having a complete breakdown. That being said, Maxine sometimes comes across as too wise for her years; adults are talking to the 18-year-old like she's on their level of life experience.
Dontnod is making a great effort to have choices mean something and carry over between episodes. I enjoyed how the little things, like erasing mean messages on an acquaintance's whiteboard, mattered in a later conversation. Small decisions also factor into sweeping choices like whether or not you save someone's life. The choices aren't easy; sometimes they even make you choose between friendships. However, I also experienced some inconsistencies in how characters reacted, which seemed like a result of Dontnod having difficulty keeping up with all the story threads. For instance, in one scene, a character notes I care about her and that she's going to join me, but then the next line of dialogue has her doing the opposite, saying nobody cares about her.
Outside of building relationships and making choices, the basic point-and-click exploration and puzzles provide the bulk of the gameplay. I enjoy how looking at typical objects often provides new insights into events like how Chloe's dad died. Small puzzles also occur, but they aren't anything mind blowing. They make sense in the context of the story, like proving your powers to Chloe with basic memory games. However, one puzzle drove me nuts: locating five bottles in a large junkyard. Looking for a needle in a haystack is rarely fun, and that's the case here. The do-or-die involving rerouting a train was much better, since the time pressure keeps the situation intense and exciting.
Even with everything that bothered me in this episode, I'm still entrenched in where Maxine's story is headed. Life is Strange has plenty of potential left, and Dontnod is making choices matter. However, characters and circumstances need be more natural and plausible for me to buy into this world. So much is too overblown. Life is Strange is at its best when it dials it down and just focuses on the simple things, like coping through the hard times or repairing a broken friendship. These are the moments that keep me invested.
Life is Strange is back for another episode. Find out how it's shaping up.