Life Is Strange Episode 2: Out of Time - Review
Life Is Strange Episode 2: Out of Time - Review
Episode Two maintains the momentum and intensity of the beginning beautifully.
Posted: 04/16/15 | Category: Review | Developer: Dontnod Entertainment | Publisher: Square Enix | Platform: Xbox one, Xbox 360, Playstation 4, Playstation 3, Windows

Genre: Point-And-Click Adventure
Release date: March 24, 2015

The first episode of Dontnod Entertainment’s Life Is Strange made some big promises; there were superpowers, a mysteriously vanished girl, a school with a seedy underbelly of secrets, and an imminent hurricane that all loomed large over the unassuming town of Arcadia Bay. It would have been easy for some of these storylines to fall flat as they developed, but Episode Two: Out of Time, maintains the momentum and intensity of the beginning beautifully. Life Is Strange is proving to be a remarkable adventure title with a well-developed, immersive choice system and a rich world you’ll yearn to get lost in.

Story
 

Episode Two opens on a groggy shot of Max waking up the day after she discovers she has time-reversing powers, and you can choose to linger in bed for awhile, taking in the soundtrack of her morning. It’s an excellent way to remind us of this character’s dual role as both superhero and lazy teenager, and one of the many creative means of storytelling Life Is Strange employs. By looking through Max’s text history, emails, and a frenzied map of post-it notes, it becomes apparent that she’s been up all night trying to figure out what’s going on with her powers but has come to no real conclusions. It’s an efficient way to cover the confusion Max is feeling without resorting to long internal monologues, and the rest of the episode follows the same enjoyably expedient tack.

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If the first episode was about Max discovering and learning to use her powers, the second is about her bumping up against her limitations, often at the worst possible moment. Chloe, who is enticed immediately by the possibilities of Max’s power to erase mistakes, takes Max to a junkyard to experiment. But when Max overtaxes her abilities, there are nosebleeds and headaches and blips in her control - clearly, she’ll have to be careful.

But perhaps more even than an endowed supergirl Max is a high school student, and the requisite drama of adolescence continues. Pregnancy scares, Halloween soirées, class stress, and battles for popularity all serve as a living backdrop to Max’s concerns about fitting in amongst her peers. Max’s devoutly Christian friend Kate, who is seen getting bullied and harassed in the first episode, endures further scrutiny because of a scandalous video taken at a campus party, and it’s up to you to defend her feelings or join in on the taunting. Chloe owes money to a tough character who seems to know something about the mysterious disappearance of her former best friend Rachel Amber, but you’ll have to decide the best way to navigate his threats. The complex threads of the plot knot together in interesting ways and the story never slows down.

Atmosphere
 

We get to see more of Arcadia Bay this time around, departing the Blackwell Academy campus for a cozy diner in the city proper. The town strikes a jarring contrast to the decked-out photography classrooms and carefully tended grounds of Max’s school; buildings are boarded up and abandoned, and the nervous words of the people on the street and a petitioning fisherman signal a place undergoing a slow but steady decline. The motley crew of townsfolk - some mentally ill, unemployed, and homeless - add to landscapes both geographically and emotionally. More than just social commentary about the decay of American cities, this decline is a metaphor for the relationship between Max and Chloe that has been, for years, untended. They hang around together in a literal junkyard on the edge of town, looking through the garbage to see if there’s anything worth salvaging. Inattention has caused cracks in the foundation of this friendship and it’s still unclear whether these two girls, fighting the changes five years apart have wrought, will be able to repair their bond.

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This stroke of symbolic brilliance is complimented once again by a stellar soundtrack that characterizes and deepens the emotions of the story. Max’s inner chaos is still complimented by moody indie music, but in her dormitory as the other students prepare for class we hear alternate themes. When Max opens her door to head to the showers, strains of a savage, raunchy rap song filter from behind the door of her standoffish rival. In another room a character who, the previous day, had been in the midst of a personal crisis, dances on her bed to a joyous dance anthem despite the early morning hour. Her elation will get stuck in your head.

Gameplay
 

When I first saw how many “choices” were made in the first episode - four major ones and twelve minor ones - I was skeptical of how the game would deliver a unique experience. But already the decisions you’ve made, big and small, have shaped Max’s story and how she’s seen by others. If you took the fall for Chloe’s pot or accused Nathan of having a gun in school, for instance, your credibility will be doubted by authority figures when you try to bring new issues to their attention.

But the end of Episode Two reveals just how much your actions matter in a climactic scene where Max, taxed from her day’s adventures, finds that she’s temporarily drained her powers. To get the outcome she wants, she (and you) will have to get things right the first time. The resulting negotiation involves an emotional calculus that depends not just on having chosen all the “right” answers but on paying attention; in her prowling around campus, poking through people’s bedrooms (so often the outlets of their spirit and imagination), Max has uncovered the secret longings and motivations of many of her classmates. If you breezed through these spaces without really taking them in, chances are you won’t have the information you need when it counts.

In short, this game rewards immersion and engagement and consideration. Buy into the experience and you’ll get a lot out of it. All games should be this interested in providing a return on the player’s investment of time, money, and emotional commitment.

Conclusion
 

When something is working, it’s hard to figure out where to begin talking about why. Everything from the bathroom graffiti to the memory puzzles to the cinematic shots of Max riding through town on a bus, lost in a world of her own music, contributes to a cohesive gameplay experience that works extremely well. The characters, though not always likeable and sometimes veering toward the realm of stereotype (hyper-religious Kate comes most readily to mind), are nevertheless emotionally resonant and believable. This game has set up a lot and delivered plenty already. I was left yearning for more, and days after finishing the episode it still breaks into my thoughts with questions and speculations and reflections. The faster I get back to Arcadia Bay, the better.

Grade: A
New locations to explore
Complex choice systems with differing outcomes
Stakes-raising plot
Memory puzzles that fit organically with the story
 
Characters can feel somewhat stereotypical
 Logo
 
 
System Requirements
 
MINIMUM PC:
OS: Windows Vista
Processor: Dual Core 2.0 GHz or equivalent
Memory: 2 GB RAM
Graphics: ATI or NVidia card w/512 MB RAM (not recommended for Intel HD Graphics cards) 
DirectX: Version 9.0
Hard Drive: 3 GB available space
 
 
Specials from Digital Download
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