Life Is Strange episode 2: review

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  • Format: Xbox One (version reviewed), PS4, PS3, 360, PC
  • Unleashed: Out now
  • Publisher: Square Enix
  • Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
  • Players: 1
  • Site: http://lifeisstrange.com/agegate.php
  • Game purchased by reviewer

It’s perhaps worth saying here that although we’re reviewing the episodes individually, only the first episode (which we absolutely loved) is available for purchase outside of the season pass. But let’s see how the series is getting along. With arguably the strongest opening of any episodic game so far, there’s a lot for the second instalment to live up to. Have Dontnod managed to keep the momentum going?

One thing that is apparent as soon as this episode begins, and runs all the way through to the closing moments, is that the desire to give Life Is Strange an indie film vibe (something the devs have quite openly discussed they’re going for) has become even stronger. Not only because the vast majority of the teens have been painstakingly designed to dress and act so achingly casual that they threaten to disappear in a puff of irony. Nor is it down to the soundtrack, which is populated by the same kind of lovely laid-back tracks by fashionably obscure bands as last time. No, the noticeable difference here is in the camera angles, carefully (and, it must be said, masterfully) designed to replicate a thoughtful piece of cinema.

Ordinarily, this kind of thing would justifiably set off alarm bells – especially in a game that breaks from the norm. Thankfully, David Cage has not been allowed anywhere near this game. The striving for a ‘cinematic’ vibe only serves to enhance the experience here –  which is let down only by the lip synching, which remains unfortunately (and extremely noticeably) poor. Amazingly, everything else is done so well as to render this mostly unimportant.

You can get Max to play along to the song which plays at the episode’s opening. A whiff of cheese, certainly, but still very cool.

Chloe takes a back seat in this episode to an extent, with most of the heavy lifting in terms of establishing her relationship with Max done in the first episode. There’s a subtle shift here to a closer examination of life at school in general, which is blended with the missing persons conspiracy without actually giving any more details. In fact, by the end of the episode there are more potential suspects than at the beginning…

If episode two has a theme, it is bullying, and this is dispersed throughout the three hours or so that it lasts with intelligence and care. There is one overt example of peer pressure and mental abuse that builds to a dramatic, highly emotional crescendo charged with tension. The final sequence that depends on your actions to determine the outcome will stay with you for a long time.

Again, we were unable to tear ourselves away from Life Is Strange until the episode had come to a close. That’s not to say that this is a perfect game; in fact, episode two makes one mistake that would be unforgiveable were it not for the sheer brilliance that it is sandwiched between. You know fetch quests? You know how so many of them are tedious? You know how so many of them are compulsory? Imagine a fetch quest where you were doing something as dull as, say, looking for five hidden bottles in a junkyard, where the fifth bottle was inevitably nigh-on impossible to find. Yup, you guessed it – that’s exactly what you’re asked to do here.

GEE HE DOESN’T LOOK CREEPY

It takes a while to become frustrating, with plenty of incidental detail and Chloe and Rachel’s old hideout to snoop around on the way. There’s no getting away from the fact, however, that you’re looking for some damn bottles in a damn junkyard, and you’re not allowed to progress the damn story until you do, and one of the bottles is hidden in a damn stupid place. We spent a long, frustrating time trying to unearth the final bottle before finally caving in and turning to Google for answers. We found that this seems to be a common problem encountered by players

Despite this irritating slip-up, Life Is Strange remains a compelling experience, and is so far a strong contender for game of the year. The next episode will be crucial, however, in deciding how the series as a whole shapes up. A poor decision like the junk hunt will grate more a second time; Dontnod will have to start filling in details of existing mysteries, rather than introduce new ones; and they’ll also have to start showing a wider impact for previous decisions if players are to feel any weight to their choices. Going by the experience so far, however, it’s difficult to imagine Dontnod making any game-crippling mistakes.

critical score 9Critical Hit

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Written by Luke K

Luke plays lots of videogames, now and again stopping to write about them. He’s the editor in chief at Critical Gamer, which fools him into thinking his life has some kind of value. Chances are, if you pick up a copy of the latest Official PlayStation Magazine or GamesMaster, you’ll find something he’s written in there.

Luke doesn’t have a short temper. If you suggest otherwise, he will punch you in the face.

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