Review: Life is Strange: Episode 2 – Not Your Average Girl

on April 7, 2015 10:00 AM

At the end of Life is Strange‘s first episode, “Chrysalis,” protagonist Max Caulfield and her friend, the rebellious Chloe, found themselves at a crossroads — overlooking the scenic beauty of its picturesque Portland-inspired setting while facing dark truths and heavy consequences on the horizon.

It was a perfect way to cap off the debut of developer Dontnot Entertainment’s episodic series.

As the story of a young woman discovering her powers to rewind moments in time while also dealing with the struggles of young adulthood — abuse, humiliation, depression, and more — it was admirable as much as it was unconventional.

Luckily the series’ second episode continues that trend with its next chapter, “Out of Time.”

Picking up just a day after where “Chrysalis” left off, the second episode doesn’t hold back from many of the issues and plot threads that the first episode touched on.

As the first episode introduced players to Max Caulfield, a young photography student at Blackwell Academy, the series’ debut highlighted most of what to expect in the season moving forward: a touching coming-of-age story with a few key supernatural twists, thanks to Max’s uncanny ability to rewind time and rework moments to find out their consequences.

The first episode showed great promise, thanks to a sympathetic protagonist and some relatable, deep issues from teenage years.

Everything from abuse and humiliation, to drug abuse and sex, and more is touched upon in a sensitive and tasteful manner and thankfully, the second episode is no disappointment by comparison in that department.

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While the second episode does show more of some of the series weakest elements so far, such as awkward dialogue and some technical issues in particular, “Out of Time” starts to show that the game is becoming more comfortable in its own skin; with a particularly powerful closing moment to bookend this chapter, its tough tale is only getting started.

After the set-up of episode one, “Out of Time” moves things forward in the story by focusing primarily on two plot threads between Chloe testing Max with a series of challenges to flex her time-rewinding powers, while also focusing a great deal on fellow student Kate Marsh as Max unravels a web of controversy surrounding Kate in a particularly rough situation.

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Life is Strange has been no stranger when it comes to the trials and tribulations that teenagers faced, and thankfully has not shied away from serious, emotional issues.

In particular with its focus on Kate Marsh, the second episode revolves heavily around issues of abuse and bullying, when an incriminating video of Kate goes viral and threatens her relationship with pretty much everyone at Blackwell Academy.

It’s a sensitive topic that unfortunately holds more prominence than ever before with social media and the Internet dominating the lives of everyone (most of all teenagers and young adults) and is a provocative storyline in that successfully makes for a story both heartbreaking but easily sympathetic.

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As such, Episode 2 ups the ante in pretty substantial ways, as some of the more trivial, light-hearted time-rewinding moments also give way to more serious, life-altering choices that I can’t say for the sake of spoilers, but by the episode’s end will have pretty significant consequences on the outcome of the story moving forward — or, at least so things seem.

While the game blends its slice-of-life setting among its more fantastic elements of rewinding time, its decisions and setting still rank high among its most rewarding and compelling elements.

With the first episode setting up the story, characters we are looking to follow, and the relationships we are rooting for, “Out of Time” builds on the premiere by pushing the story further, and especially in pushing its characters to dire situations with potentially irreversible consequences.

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In particular with some scenarios that leave Max powerless and unable to rewind time, this episode feels like a more confident step forward for the series in providing meaningful choices and some genuinely gut-wrenching decisions.

With many of the conversations had and decisions being made, the tangible choices from the previous episode could be felt, whether it was in how characters remembered how I spoke to them, what I’ve done for them, or what the implications of past actions can mean in my relationships with them.

“Out of Time” brings together two well thought out storylines that both lead to some dark and tension-filled conclusions, which exemplify Life is Strange‘s strengths in storytelling.

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Against anything from the Telltale Games canon or other more fantastical adventure games, this title is certainly more contemporary and laid-back comparatively.

But, with its story that still features some genuine drama and in many cases, situations with incredibly high stakes, it’s no slouch in providing an interesting story with great characters.

Even in their more lackadaisical adventures, I still want to know more about Max and Chloe, and more importantly, to see where their story is heading.

Though “Out of Time” is still another solid entry in the game at the early stages of its season, some scenarios in the second episode still bring out a few of the weaker aspects of the series so far and the more egregious instances of awkward writing and character interactions still rear their head more than ever.

While teenage dialogue and writing to sound like modern teenagers is never an easy feat, Life is Strange‘s stilted writing still comes off unnaturally at times and clashes with the modern, more naturalistic sensation it is trying to create.

Although certain relationships between characters like Max and Chloe feel genuine and enriching, the awkward use of teenage slang and generally unnatural ways they act at points did draw me away from the experience at times, sounding more “written” than like natural dialogue.

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Slowing things down a bit more compared to the brisk pace of the first episode and at times leading to some instances of crawling advancement (in particular with Max and Chloe’s excursion to an abandoned junk yard), episode two develops its characters and story tenderly while never backing away from at-times uncomfortable but poignant moments.

Like Max’s discovery of her powers and developing them more with Chloe’s guidance, Life is Strange is still blooming as much as its teenage protagonist.

Though “Out of Time” still has plenty of its awkward moments and growing pains, it continues to show the promise of its compelling original story and how the episodic format is lending itself beautifully to its tender, heartbreaking story.

Complimented by an incredibly powerful ending that could have worked on its own as the season finale, even in only its second episode the tides are turning. Dark forces are on the horizon and new threats are appearing, yet Life is Strange is only growing brighter.

Oh, and don’t forget — always go with the bacon omelette.

 /  Features Editor
Ryan is the Features Editor at DualShockers, with over five years' experience in the world of video games culture and writing. He holds a BA in English & Cinema from Binghamton University, and lives in New York City.