Damn, this took a while, didn’t it?
I was expecting this back in late November or early December, but DONTNOD wanted time to hone in on their craft, their life, their passion for what is their most popular franchise. By “time”, they mean “make the episodes twice as bloody long”, but nevertheless, here we are, Episode 2 of Life is Strange 2: Rules.
This is the long-awaited second episode of the long-awaited second installment of alt-girl darling title Life is Strange. Episode 1 of Life is Strange 2 released to the exact same buzz and reception that Life is Strange 1’s first episode did, with most people saying “it’s okay, we’ll have to see what happens next, blah blah blah”, so the only thing left to do is see what happened next.
You’re still playing as Daniel and Sean, the Hispanic duo on the run after an altercation with a neighbor resulted in the death of their father and a policeman. It’s been a month since the initial accident, and currently, the pair is hiding out in Oregon. It’s Christmas time, and Daniel is beginning to continue growing his powers, with Sean being his mentor, praying that he doesn’t meet the wrong side of people and that he doesn’t show off his power too much.
Episode 1 of Life is Strange 2 was a mixed bag leaning toward greatness. As usual, the commentary on a hot-button topic such as racism was flip-flopping between confronting, tone-deaf and forgotten, and this 4-hour run time hasn’t done anything to help proper pacing. With that in mind, DONTNOD have defied expectations by doing nothing about it.
Episode 2 plays exactly the same as Episode 1, and it’s so tiring to see that stop/start formula continue in such a rudimentary fashion. You know the drill, there’s an hour of nothing– CHOICES!– Okay, cut back to an hour of nothing– CHOICES! It’s clockwork at this point, and even the choices that are supposed to matter have become less consistent.
Part of this is because most of the choices that have massive impacts are actually hidden from the player. Well, they’re not hidden, but every once in a while, you’ll say something to someone and you’ll hear a little guitar strum, signifying that you’ve made a choice that will impact… something. I don’t know what, as it never tells you what exactly you have impacted, but you never know what lurks.
In truth, I like this sort of ambiguity. It’s much more realistic and it truly does make you question your every move without knowing what it’ll affect directly, but the only problem that arises is that in truth, it makes the major choices meaningless. Think of it like this; You talk about everything in these episodic narrative-adventure games, right? We’re talking tens, maybe hundreds of different lines for every single character in conversations, and if there are fleeting moments like that equipped with context-less consequences, it means the major ones have less weight to them.
My point is that while these little moments of impact don’t require context, it does dampen the promise that the choices that stop the game in their tracks will do a whole lot more damage. Once again, I don’t mind that, since a lot of the time, the game’s blaring alarm signals in your face about how this choice will be so important, except now, it’s still doing it, but you’re confident that it’s not as crucial as the developers think.
Maybe that’s a contradiction of their vision, but to be honest, what do you expect? This kind of moral ambiguity is perfect for these types of games, with titles like OXENFREE (Yes, I will marry OXENFREE one day, stop bugging me about it!) showing that you can convey how characters feel about you without batting you over the head with it. It’s great, it works well here, and in fact, is one of the few things that does.
The game is surprisingly glitchy for a title that doesn’t do technical intensities. The main menu has texture pop-in like crazy, the frame rate really wants to reach 60, but usually fails, and character models have a tendency to get stuck in certain loops or disappear from cutscenes. It’s hilarious seeing Daniel talk to nothing, as it implies that maybe this whole thing is inside his head, and he’s actually hallucinating all of this while in a coma from the attack in the first episode… what? It could happen.
When the graphics aren’t trying to fight and pop-in before you notice, they do provide some decent vistas, albeit contained and rarely satisfying. Despite a rural setting for Episode 2, along with snow-covered roads and gentle snowfall permeating the air, you will never see a scene or aesthetic choice that blows your mind.
Sean’s voice actor still doesn’t understand acoustics, and neither does Daniel, but the events that transpire within the second episode do help to build them up to be stronger people. Themes of teen rebellion, loss and recovery begin to seep into the writing, and Daniel shows off all of these motions effectively and without fanfare behind it. I do like that Sean is showing signs of jealousy and contempt towards the fact that he’s not the one with the power of telekinesis, but this is all just as fleeting as the rest of the game.
The big ol’ surprise for Episode 2 is that Chris from The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit shows up, and attempts a loving but knowingly-brief relationship with Daniel. It’s obviously set up for disaster, and to be honest, that’s something that Life is Strange 2 tends to do a lot in this second episode: set up scenarios where the only answers are ones that only hurt your playthrough. I can’t explain it without spoiling it, but just know that a lot of the time, you can only say or do things that’ll bite you in the ass later, and not in that whole “ooo, maybe they might look past that” way.
Now, I could talk about other characters that show up during Episode 2, but the problem is that none of them are memorable, save for the already-established Chris. One could argue that Daniel is going to feel long-term effects of this sporadic jumping from place-to-place, but why don’t they show that instead of implying it further than they would with the ambiguity of choices?
This is another problem both episodes have showcased. Sean always voices inside his head the concerns of how Daniel will feel about all of this. He always says silly stuff like “Oh, Daniel might…”, or “Oh, Daniel would…”. He always laments, and so far, nothing has been shown relating to him doing something about Daniel. Could it be that he’s afraid of Daniel? Probably not, since he relays nothing about it to people who question Daniel’s weird abilities, he merely says “oh, you know… it’s there, y’know… wish I bloody had it”.
The music? Yeah, it’s alright. Sounds like Antlers B-Sides the whole way through, and maybe that’s what composer Syd Matters had in mind. Every track sounds like it’s either going to break into “Two” or “Kettering” or “Spanish Sahara” unexpectedly, but it still sets a generic but warm tone throughout, even when shit hits the fan.
The directing of cutscenes and “cinematography” was hilariously copied and pasted. Every new scene began the exact same: A shot of Sean looking sad, and then a showcasing of everything around him: A kitchen, a river, a table, a disembodied voice doing something fun or otherwise. Repetition is quite clearly the way things are going here, as opposed to the emotional rollercoaster Episode 1 mostly succeeded on.
After finishing Episode 2, I had already begun to grow tired of this negatively-weighted pacing; This struggle to keep things within a natural flowing storyline. It’s like DONTNOD keep trying to skip stones across the river to keep things interesting, but it only goes on for three scenes, and they can’t find another perfect rock to throw until Episode 3. That being said, however, we already saw this happen with the previous Life is Strange: Decent first episode, the lukewarm second episode, fantastic third episode. Will it happen here also? I don’t know, I guess we’ll have to wait until April of 2020 or something.
With that in mind, it’s possible that this Second Installment Syndrome might be a sign that Life is Strange 2 as a whole is also going through Second Installment Syndrome. A by-product of the games possible failings to come, which can only leave fans and onlookers umm’ing and err’ing in fear that they don’t cock up.
In the end, as much as those ambiguous choices provide a meaty meal, Life is Strange 2’s doubled length doesn’t show off better characterization, or lessons learned. In fact, it shows that DONTNOD has detracted from some of the talents and skills shown in Episode 1. I’m not asking for everything to explode like it did the first episode, but oh my God, this country bumpkin boredom showing us moments that neither Daniel or Sean will keep with them throughout the rest of their journeys was annoying to sit through.
Until next time, don’t eat yellow snow.
Second Installment Syndrome further infects the Second Episode of this Second Installment of Life is Strange.
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