The debut episode of Life Is Strange 2 was a promising first step for the next entry in Square Enix’s beloved adventure game franchise.
Episode 1 was morally complex, much bolder and contained a healthy dose of the signature cheese fans grew to cherish with cringeful glee. However, the franchise’s four-month absence while developing their follow-up episode, Rules, has reduced the lightning fast momentum of this daring debut to a snail’s pace. It doesn’t then help matters that the pacing of this second entry is perhaps the franchise’s slowest to date.
That’s not to say that Rules is by any means bad. Unlike the first episode, it takes an insightful pit-stop to delve deeper into the emotional turmoil of its young protagonists, asking more morally demanding questions and putting you – as a role model to an impressionable young boy – into situations that might have long-term ramifications. It goes without saying that seeing new sides to these characters is completely welcome; the problem forms from Rules lacking the balance between action and story necessary to make its major emotional arcs not feel long-winded.
But before we discuss that, it’s worth establishing what’s changed in the wait between episodes. Rather appropriately, considering the gap in release dates, the episode begins a good while after the dramatic conclusion of Roads. Picking up the brothers’ trail during the winter months, we join Sean training Daniel to channel the destructive powers he awoke during the final moments of the last episode. However, Daniel’s rough, survivalist lifestyle has not only net him a wide selection of super-powers; it also gave him a bad fever that seems to only be getting worse. With this in mind, the boys seek the safety and warmth of their distant grandparents’ house, hoping the elderly couple will aid them as they attempt to find medicine and evade the police.
While the mechanics of the first episode re-emerge quite frequently, the new notable feature comes in the form of Daniel’s powers. To fans of Life Is Strange 2 prequel, The Awesome Adventures Of Captain Spirit, they’ll be very familiar as they function almost identically to Chris’s fantasy powers. If you see a bright, flashy arrow appear on the screen, you’ll be able to employ your younger sibling to move objects, solve environmental puzzles and, rather frequently, prank unassuming nearby characters with his telekinesis. While these seem fairly generic early on, they develop significantly throughout the episode, eventually leading to scenarios where you must decide whether to utilise Daniel’s powers or not take the risk.
This choice may seem simple, in theory. Why wouldn’t you always pick to use the powers, right? Well, as more people begin to surround the protagonists, it becomes clearer that the two must keep as low a profile as possible. Add to that the often violent and aggressive nature in which Daniel utilises these powers, and you frequently find yourself in some sticky moral situations when you opt to make use of them.
One such example sees the pair attempting to navigate through a locked door. One solution asks that you search the entire house for a key, while the other sees Daniel blow down the door off its hinges with his powers. It’s an interesting moment that, while initially seems small, begins to summarise many of the key themes of this season: teaching Daniel about the responsibility of power and influencing him to stay away from the path of anger.
Journeying to Daniel and Sean’s grandparents’ house also gives way to more of Life Is Strange’s signature exploration segments. The large home is a pretty expansive new area to comb, and with references to your previous actions unfolding through certain areas – such as newspaper clippings and internet stories – it adds to the interesting reasons to spend more time in this world.
Unfortunately, there seem to be very few areas outside the walls of the house, meaning that once you’ve scoured it, there’s a distinct lack of items to look at and goodies to grab. While you infrequently visit other areas, they lack the detail and variety of the first episode’s suite of locations. It’s disappointing, as it’s often one of the game’s strongest features in both series.
It’s here that the issues with pacing start to kick in. Stuck within a large, empty house, there’s simply too little adventure and intrigue to make the three-hour story exciting. While it’s filled with brilliant character moments and deeper questions that we’ll surely explore in future episodes, there’s simply not enough incentive to fully embrace them because they feel so drawn-out and over-played. That’s not to imply they aren’t interesting, but with the first episode’s terrific mix of high-octane sequences and emotionally complex character moments, it’s hard to not wish for a healthy blend instead.
Without any spoilers, this episode also brings The Awesome Adventures Of Captain Spirit back into the foreground. Porting your choices from the standalone episode, Rules carves out a big part of the story to allow these two slices of Life Is Strange to merge. It’s definitely a worthwhile moment that finally gives context to the Captain Spirit story, but it can’t help but feel strangely tacked on, especially if this singular episode is the last time we see the tales cross-over.
It’s also a shame that Dontnod’s technical aspects can let it down slightly. Facial animations appear rigid at points – which is especially noticeable when the vocal work of the actors doesn’t match their character’s facial expressions – while technical glitches pop up somewhat frequently. It’s nothing awful, but with The Walking Dead: The Final Season stepping up their game significantly in the animation department, Life Is Strange 2 tends to look a little dated.
While Life Is Strange 2’s second episode successfully manages to establish the deeper nuances of its fresh story and characters it is, unfortunately, an underwhelming follow-up to the season’s brilliant debut. The plot is too slow for its own good, and while what’s here is worthwhile and enjoyable, it lacks the same electric pacing of the previous episode.
Hopefully, Dontnod will avoid the minor stumbles of this mediocre second episode as we move on to the next chapter of the Diaz brothers’ story.
Game: Life is Strange 2: Episode 2
Platform: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, Microsoft Windows
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Publisher: Square Enix
Release Date: Out Now