Life Is Strange: Episode Two – Out of Time
Life Is Strange is an episodic adventure game set in and around Blackwell Academy, a prestigious art school in the US North West. In the first episode, Chrysalis, we met Max Caulfield, a geeky, awkward female photography student who discovers a mysterious ability to rewind time – while also seeing portentous visions of the destruction of the town of Arcadia Bay. In the second episode, Out Of Time, we return to Blackwell as Max to further investigate the disappearance of another student, Rachel Amber, and find out some of the repercussions of decisions we have made.
Out Of Time opens with Max waking up the morning after the closing scenes of the the previous instalment. As before, the player guides her through her day, interacting with other characters and objects, taking photos and using Max's as yet unexplained time-rewind powers to work through conversational and environmental puzzles. This time around, we explore a number of off-campus locations including the Two Whales diner and a junkyard by the railway tracks.
This new episode has brought with it a number of changes for the better. Dialogue on the whole, has improved with the awkward 'teen' vernacular that blighted Episode One largely – and wisely – shelved, with only Max's best friend Chloe clinging on to the occasional 'hella'. Characters are well-rounded and a number of bit players display a good deal of nuance than their one-dimensional first impressions hinted at.
After the first episode there was some concern that Life Is Strange would overplay its hand with regards to its time-rewind mechanic. While it does continue to play a significant part in Episode 2, time travel isn't used quite as frequently and Max, at one point, temporarily loses her powers through overuse. Although it couldn't happen at a worse time in story terms, the inability to rewind time at a crucial moment makes the player feel that they have to make genuine choices, rather than viewing multiple outcomes and opting for the one they like best.
On the other hand though, Out of Time suffers from a bit of a pacing issue, an odd criticism to make of a title only a couple of hours long. The first two-thirds of the game lay the groundwork for the dramatic ending but most of this content feels too familiar to what we saw in the first instalment and certain scenes outstay their welcome. A trip to a junkyard with Chloe becomes a seemingly interminable hunt for bottles and - aside from a few additional insights on Max's friend – adds little to the story.
Credit must go to Out of Time for having the bravery to tackle serious issues like bullying, fragmented families and depression. The game's penultimate scene, in particular, deals with extremely emotive subject matter and puts the player in a distinctly uncomfortable, high stakes situation. Pleasingly, this plays out without unnecessary melodrama or sensationalism but the overall tone of the scene seems a little off the mark and raises doubts as to whether Dontnod's writing team have the chops to pull off events of such gravitas.
The close of this episode also shows Life Is Strange's choice system come to the fore. Decisions made over the course of the two episodes have a bearing on game-changing events at the conclusion of Episode 2, and not always in predictable ways. There's a definite similarity to how stories unfold across instalments in Telltale's episodic titles, though The Walking Dead and The Wolf Among Us have seldom displayed anything quite as sophisticated as Dontnod's carefully woven closing scenes.
Ultimately, Life Is Strange Episode 2: Out Of Time asks more questions than it answers – while plenty happens during the episode, we're no closer to discovering the whereabouts of Rachel Amber or the source of Max's mysterious powers. It remains an intriguing title – and that dramatic, penultimate scene reads like a statement of intent from the developers – but it's a game that is still mostly trading on potential. Anyone who enjoyed the first episode will find their appetite whetted for future instalments but those who weren't convinced by Life Is Strange's schtick in Chrysalis are unlikely to find anything here to change their mind.