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Review: Life is Strange: Episode Two – Out of Time (Sony PlayStation 4)

lifeisstrangecover
Review: Life is Strange: Episode Two – Out of Time
Publisher: Square-Enix
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Genre: Interactive Drama
Release Date: 03/24/2015

(Note: This review will feature text copied from my review of episode one. As things like graphics, audio, and core mechanics are unlikely to change between episodes, there’s hardly a good reason to rewrite bits for that. These copied sections will be in italics. Feel free to read them and/or skip them as you see fit.)

On the last episode of Life is Strange, we were introduced to Max, a quirky eighteen year old girl looking to become a photographer. After witnessing a murder, she discovered she had the power to reverse time. Thus began our journey of righting wrongs while still dealing with the typical drama of being a high school student. It worked because of strong writing and interesting characters, as well as gameplay that encouraged exploration and experimentation. The season showed a lot of promise, and not its time to see if that promise was kept.

This episode is all about Max and Chloe experimenting with Max’s powers. This is done in a way that lets you get to know the characters even better while moving the overall plot forward in subtle ways. A subplot revolves around another girl dealing with a viral video of her getting a bit too rowdy at a party. High school being high school, you can imagine how her fellow students aren’t exactly rallying around her in support.

lifeisstrange21What really makes this episode tick is the choices you make. More importantly, it’s the choices you don’t even realize you’re making. Instead of simply going “choose A or B”, the game has several events that happen only if you explore and interact with the world around you. This culminates in an ending that relies on these small choices as well as your big choices. Seemingly small decisions can have a big impact later on. That’s the kind of thing that Telltale games have struggles with. LiS makes you feel like what you’ve been doing matters. That puts it miles above the competition.

For the most part, Life is Strange looks great. The models and environments are well detailed, there’s a good use of color, and nothing looks strangely out of place. A couple of issues bog it down though. The hair for example, has the complexion of cheap plastic. It almost looks like characters are wearing helmets. Facial hair doesn’t fare much better either. Those that have it look like they’ve simply drawn it on with marker. More importantly, the lip syncing is terrible to the point of distraction. It feels like the audio is simply out of sync with the visuals. Unfortunately, these issues are consistent throughout the game and make it hard to enjoy an otherwise well put together little world.

Things fare better in the aural department. Those indie songs fit the mood to a tee, and sound pretty nice to boot. The voice acting is also quite good across the board. A few lines are overacted a bit, but that can just as easily be attributed to the fact that teenagers actually act like that. It’s not odd at all that Max would get into an all too serious reverie about some silly bit of graffiti or lament the state of her self portrait. That’s what kids do. It’s a solid package across the board really. It’s just a shame those words don’t match the lip movements.

Much like the various recent TT games, Life is Strange keeps a minimalist approach. However, this game keeps a few of the puzzle elements that those games have ditched. The time rewinding mechanic also throws a fresh perspective on the genre.

lifeisstrange22There’s actually freedom to explore and discover in the game. While you can only really progress the plot by completing certain actions, you’re often given a fairly well sized area to walk around in. You can hunt for photo ops, talk to people, and get Max’s input on various things as well. Talking to people helps flesh out the story, and adds a lot of depth. There’s one plot line about a girl who went missing in the months prior to the start of story, and you’ll find out a lot more by talking to non-essential people than you will on the main path. It’s really all about walking around and pressing one of two or so face buttons. It’s simple, but effective.

When a puzzle does show up, it’s often only a couple of steps in complexity. For example, you’ll only need to perform two actions in order to get the popular girls to stop blocking your way into the dorm. The trick is in using the time reversal to see what things you can interact with. In one case, you need to hide in a closet. If you attempt to open the door, a floor lamp falls into it and knocks everything over. A quick time reversal allows you to move the lamp first and thus save you from the accident. To reverse time, you need only hold down a shoulder button. The game has skip options to allow you fast forward through stuff you’ve already seen before/maneuver through time faster. Best of all, this mechanic lets you change your mind about even the biggest decisions in the game. The catch is that you can only reverse time so far, and once you leave the area, those decisions are set in stone. Still, it takes a lot of the anxiety out of making a choice. You can see what all the options do and pick the path you think is best.

lifeisstrange23When it comes to making choices in the game, your options are usually limited. Fans used to TT’s four option method might be disappointed to know that this game usually offers only two or three choices. This is most likely to give more meaning to those choices and to keep the time reversals from getting out of hand. On the other hand, you’re free to talk to someone until you’ve exhausted all dialogue options, which is nice. It’s certainly less on-rails than comparable games. It’s not quite to the point where you can call it a true adventure game, but it’s much closer than you’d expect.

Once again, the episode isn’t all that long if all you want to do is complete the story. There are plenty of things to check out if you’re interested. There are photo-ops that unlock trophies, conversations that unveil more of the lore, and things like reading Max’s journal. It’s not a bad package for five bucks at all.

Short Attention Span Summary

diehardjack1-150x150Out of Time moves the season forward in all the right ways. The overall plot is coming together, the subplots are engaging and interesting, and the mechanics are still showing growth. it’s getting to the point where the series can actually be called an Adventure game. It’s a pretty darn good one at that. The wait for the next episode is already unbearable. Let’s hope the momentum keeps going.

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