Picking up where the previous episode left off, (and to “Something Good” by Alt-J) Life is Strange: Episode 2 – Out of Time continues Max Caulfield’s story, but not especially far. There’s not a lot of narrative ground covered in this second episode – instead, Dontnod devote more to the development of their leading lady.
Max is still trying to come to terms with her terrifying visions and the implications of the time control powers she inherited in Episode One – Chrysalis. She’s still hanging out with Chloe, who continues to be a relentless brat and pretty rubbish friend, and together they’re trying to test the limits of this new ability.
The numerous subplots that were kicked off in Episode One get a short look-in here and there, with Max now quite fearful of reprisal for her various actions in the first episode and is trying to comfort a friend on the edge of a complete breakdown. Indeed, there were so many cans of worms cracked open in the first episode that I struggled to keep track of them all. As for new elements, the Vortex Club, the school’s social club, has rocketed to popularity but is hiding a seedy underbelly of sex and drugs that, for some reason, none of the adults in town seem to see.
I ran up against this issue a few times during my playthrough and it really began to bug me. I remember feeling like adults weren’t able to grasp the way I saw and felt about things when I was a teenager but they are truly clueless here. There isn’t a single authority figure to be found in this town who reacts appropriately to things that are right in front of them. Is it any wonder all the kids in this town are lunatics?
Additionally, if you weren’t a fan of the dialogue in the first episode then prepare to get your ears smacked around again because there isn’t much improvement here. I seem to have a higher tolerance for all the hipster-speak going on than most and to be fair, there are a few moments of genuinely great dialogue in this episode – Max’s conversation with Chloe’s mother in the diner feels genuine and provides a lot of important information in an entertaining way. Similarly, more great dialogue occurs when Max has to talk a friend down from making an especially huge, life-or-death decision.
The other side of this chatty coin is that when the dialogue stumbles, it crashes rather indelicately to the ground. I ran into a couple of instances of characters changing their opinion sentence to sentence – in one memorable exchange, Max’s friend states clearly and for the record that she sees how much I cared about her but quite literally the very next line of dialogue had her contradict that by saying that no-one cared about her. This could be a facet of Dontnod’s many story-threads getting away from them a bit but it struck me as really quite odd.
To be fair, the work Dontnod are trying to do narratively is work worth doing. They’re tackling some pretty big issues head on including depression, abuse, loss and suicide. For the most part, the attempt to talk about these issues with the sensitivity, care and respect they deserve but, remember the unhelpful, nonplussed adults I mentioned earlier? I found myself not bringing things to their attention because I knew how they would react. That is a straight-up-and-down terrible message to be sending to anyone who has dealt with circumstances as hard as these. Perhaps Dontnod will eventually explain the lack of care in the adult characters with all the supernatural goings-on in the town but right now it feels like Max is the only sane, rational human being in the entire place.
The episode divides itself between this important character groundwork for Max and a few puzzles. And I mean “a few”. There are only two or three real examples of puzzle solving in the game. One was a memory game that asked you to prove to Chloe that you really could rewind time by using your power to provide information about the future. That was quite fun, I really liked that one. Another has you attempting to save a friend from a railroad track before a train roars through and splatters them. Again, a solid, tense and exciting little exercise.
Then there was a puzzle that literally had me walk around a junkyard to pick up five bottles. That was it. It took forever and – aside from frustrating me beyond reason – it completely derailed the pace of the entire episode. Whoever it was at Dontnod that decided looking for needles in a haystack was a fun way to spend your time gets three weeks in solitary to think about what they’ve done.
I can’t be too mad at Dontnod though because they’ve worked quite hard for the choices you make throughout each episode to be meaningful and have an impact on each successive episode. The little things, the small moments, are where Life is Strange really shines. For instance, wiping (or not wiping) a horrid message off your friend’s whiteboard in the first episode has dire ramifications in the second. This is just one of many examples I could point to.
Despite the things that really annoyed me in this episode, I still really want to see where Max’s story goes. There’s so much potential in this weird little tale and Dontnod wants the things you do and say to have weight. If they can work on making character reactions more believable and maybe dial back on the implausible CW teen drama just a touch, they’d have something truly wonderful on their hands.
Review Score: 6.5 out of 10
Highlights: Time travel mechanic is still really cool; Max remains an interesting lead
Lowlights: One puzzle ruins the episode’s pace; some truly bizarre character reactions
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC, PlayStation 3, Xbox 360
Reviewed on PlayStation 4
Life is Strange: Episode 2 – Out of Time deals with some pretty dark and heavy themes like depression and suicidal thoughts and it may be triggering for some. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental illness or is contemplating suicide, VideAU Games and Dontnod would urge you to call beyondblue on 1300 22 4636 or contact them on the web at http://www.beyondblue.org.au/. They’re there to help, they’re there to listen, 24/7.