"...I'm not sure what to expect from Life is Strange."
If the first installment of Life is Strange reminded me of my days as an awkward teenage girl at a private academy, then the second reminded me of just how boring they were. Although the fantastic occurrences in Episode 2 are self-evident, the delivery of this traditional adventure title needs work. Somehow, a game titled "Life is Strange" is more run-of-the-mill than one might expect, and having a super power doesn't necessarily make the cliché woes of suburban upper-middle class children any more appealing.
That said, DONTNOD definitely hit on some serious concerns in high schools today, such as cyberbullying. In this way, Life is Strange is compelling, as the developers nail the adolescent voice and seem to understand how serious these issues are. For those who've spent a decade or more outside of high school, this game shatters the rosy memories one might have. If Episode 2 focused more on this rather than the more mundane, "Woo, we're wild and crazy kids who know about Chaos Theory, but love shooting bottles that you spent ten minutes finding!" then I would laud it for its bravery. Unfortunately, Episode 2 is more of the same with shockingly dull fetch quests.
While the impetus for discovering an otherwise fascinating locale may be dull, that isn't to say Episode 2 won't appeal to anyone. Some players may enjoy the insight into mischievous youth, but why show me juvenile antics that simply repeat the character of those introduced in Episode 1? Episode 2 has a meaty start and shocking (though predictable) ending with little substance in between. Even characters whose quality of life was implied make an uninspiring entrance. We already understand Max's background with Chloe, and we know that Chloe is a misguided youth whose life hit a few too many bumps as she's grown up. However, these reaffirmations take center stage, albeit amongst novel insights and explanations. In fact, Episode 2's brief asides regarding Chaos Theory make Max's adventure seem Donnie Darko-esque. Even some of the dialogue and setting has heavy Donnie Darko vibes, but I digress. Episode 3's title is "Chaos Theory," so let's hope this fascinating path is explored more thoroughly.
In terms of gameplay, hidden photos (collectibles), frequent opportunities to rewind and optimize outcomes, bilateral decision making, and aimless wandering are continued mechanics. Those who've forgotten about the rewind ability (and how could you?) will find the first five to ten minutes useful as the game offers plenty of meaningless opportunities to use the skill. Though one or two cheeky asides would be permissible, much of the episode forces these opportunities upon the player, such as proving to Chloe that the power is real and perfecting a small science experiment. Sure, some of these side-questy manipulations may have unique outcomes later in the game, but the act itself is so benign that I could hardly be bothered to explore other results.
Furthermore, the two-pronged decision trees didn't encourage me to examine different avenues, since I clearly knew which path I wanted. This diluted the impact of what makes Life is Strange unique: rewinding. As a required mechanic, it's tedious and lacks the "wow" factor it had in Episode 1, and as an exploratory mechanic, it betrays what makes Telltale-esque titles enthralling. Of course, some players will love teasing out every outcome and crafting the perfect path, but the subject matter de-fangs what could otherwise be a worthwhile mechanic.
What remains constant from Episode 1 to 2 is the charming atmosphere. The music as it's matched with each scene screams adolescence. These moments typically come in the form of a "cinematic," but that's quite all right with me — I dig the vibe. Graphically, not much has changed, nor would I expect it to. The blur in the foreground and background is barely noticeable; it more subconsciously adds to the movie-like quality. Similarly, the controls are never an issue.
If Life is Strange can decide what it wants to be — a conventional, exploration-laden adventure title or Telltale simulation — then I can form a more firm opinion. Unfortunately, at this time, I'm not sure what to expect from Life is Strange. Although Episode 2 falls flat while simultaneously exploring intriguing themes, it hints at a promising future. I still enjoy the core cast, but worry that more meaningless fodder lies in wait. DONTNOD may not be able to rewind what they've done in Episode 2, but I don't think they're Out of Time.