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Life is Strange Episode Two: Out of Time

Time is relative, and the long wait many have felt since the last episode of Life is Strange proves this. But for our hero protagonist Max Caulfield only one solitary day has passed. It is now Tuesday, the day after we learned how to rewind time, save a friend from a cruel death, and had visions of a terrible storm that’s coming any day now. The game itself may choose to already label these events a “shitty week,” but there is no doubt it’s already an interesting one – and we are not even halfway done yet.

So what happens next?

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Although this second outing shares many of the same sensibilities of its predecessor, once again beginning with a delightful musical introduction (this time featuring Something Good by alt-J), Out of Time is an episode with a much darker tone.

From the outset, Max seems troubled about her newfound situation, already delving into various forms of time travel research for answers. She does not seem to fully accept her powers, and wonders why she even received them. Not to linger in the darkness for too long, the game includes jokey references to science – with nods to Schrödinger’s cat, Stephen Hawking, Einstein and Newton. Fiction is referenced too, with Primer, Planet of the Apes and others mentioned in the opening moments of the game. You should watch Primer by the way! Watch it twice, back to back, to begin to understand it.

Whilst the episode continues to offer a selection of both heartfelt and comedic moments, there is no doubt there is a more sinister feeling in the air as it progresses. Max’s friend Kate, who has had a religious upbringing, is going through a difficult time. Her story deals with depression, bullying, and elements of slut-shaming, all wrapped up into a gnarled, nasty hard to digest lump that should stick with many people even after the credits roll.

As Max, you are forced to make much more serious decisions than during the last outing – although you’ll usually be given solid time to ponder those decisions, and at times are allowed to make u-turns to see what would happen if opposite choices were made. This episode teases even more about Max’s unique superpowers, playing with how they are used, and ultimately culminating in a beautifully executed piece of gameplay that is striking both narratively and visually.

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There are still parts of the episode where a few weird lines of dialogue were uttered that I believe no real person would actually say. However, these are now in the minority, and there is a better overall feeling of entering a believable world, and interacting with real people about this episode. I had felt the previous episode lacked in that regard, and as a result some characters had felt caricaturish, but this episode quickly remedies that woe.

Having these well rounded characters surround Max, a pseudo-superhero, does a lot to improve the games main story arc. Max herself is a grounded character too, and players are regularly reminded there is an actual person at the core of her abilities. Max often wonders what good she can use her new skills for, but sometimes is urged to just experiment and have fun.  Questions quickly arise asking what happens when mortal bodies are forced to use such otherworldly abilities. The answers are not always easy to take.

Episode Two is quick to remind players decisions made in the previous episode will be kept track of. Looking back at the possible decisions players could have made in Episode One, none were drastically world changing, so regardless of what you chose, nothing will be vastly different in Episode Two. Nevertheless, Max herself is seen monologuing about some previously made choices, and other characters are happy to reference (and sometimes complain about) those choices too. In Episode Two you make much bigger decisions, including one pretty massive one. It will be interesting to see how these are handled going forward.

If for some reason you wish to play Episode Two having never played Episode One, the game accommodates this weird request. Although it will present a warning that narrative choices you were supposed to have previously experienced will be randomly generated. If you have not already realized, Life is Strange is very much a story driven game. Playing the episodes out of order is a bad idea. Don’t do that!

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Bad news? Well there always has to be some! Remember that launch trailer for this episode that was released a while ago? Looking back at it now after experiencing the episode, it almost tells the exact story scene for scene – and is literally a few frames short of showing players everything about the game before they’ve had a chance to play. If you watched it, and have a decent recollection of its contents, then the sad fact is a large percentage of the episode was spoiled for you. This has to be something either Dontnod or Square Enix pull back on for future episodes. Sure, the game needs to be marketed to sell, but being a source of spoilers to your own audience is unacceptable.

The other small downside was the part of the episode that asked me to partake in a fetch quest in a junkyard. This pointless expedition takes a bit too long for its own good. Thankfully it is arguably the game’s only real low point. The rest of the time you are either finding out interesting information, or reveling in the exploits of the game’s quality cast. This part just felt meaningless though. It’s not really challenging to solve, nor is it fun. It is, in fact, the only part of the game to feel like a chore, and seemed to be included solely to extend playtime a handful of minutes more. Thankfully it is just one small section that blemishes – rather than ruins – a compelling overall package.

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A notable change from Episode One is that the action quota has been increased for the second outing, and is yet another aspect that improves the appeal of the game as a whole. Don’t get me wrong, Dontnod have not turned Life is Strange in to a faux-action movie, as the game still remains its slow paced, delightfully ploding self, but the overall pacing is now much better. The game’s peaks are now that much higher, with the lows very much reduced. Based on just two short episodes this already feels like a good series worth getting lost in for hours.

Whilst Dontnod refuse to directly answer a bunch of the questions posed in the first episode, Episode Two succeeds at adding yet more wrinkles to what is quickly becoming a compelling story arc that will likely span all five episodes before delivering its answers. With this episode behind me, I no longer question Dontnod’s ability to create compelling characters and write an exciting storyline. They have now succinctly proven they are skilled at that task. The question that now remains is, with so many narrative threads up in the air, can they convincingly land them all when the time comes?

On to Wednesday we go, otherwise known as Episode Three. If the quality of the series remains at this level, Life is Strange could grow into something truly great. I just hope I can keep that damn plant alive until Friday.

9 out of 10