I enjoyed Life is Strange episode one for the character of Max, the quiet moments of reflection, and the game’s preparedness to tackle topics like sexual assault with a frankness other games just won’t. I enjoyed episode two for the same reasons, and even more besides.
Max was initially the only character I was fully interested in, but now episode two has fleshed out the typical high school archetypes and made them into real characters with a greater degree of depth. I’m beginning to feel more for all of the characters; I hate Nathan more than ever, my fondness for Dana is only increasing, and I actually want to be friends with Alyssa who delivered my favourite line of the game thus far: “Not now, Max, I’m contemplating shit.” I will save that girl from every projectile that comes in her direction.
The character developed most this episode is Kate Marsh; this is really her episode and the fragility of her character, the dark undertones of what’s happened to her, all come to a dramatic and potentially heartbreaking head. It’s easy to tell from the beginning of the episode that Kate needs someone, and prioritising her over other characters, despite their demand for Max’s attention, is not difficult to do. The game manages to foreground her quietness in an incredibly loud school environment purely through well-animated puffy eyes, and the vindictiveness of other characters. Kate’s story is a difficult one, taking the themes of sexual assault and sexual double standards further. You face the difficulty of helping Kate decide what the best course of action should be, knowing that her situation is one many people face, knowing that as much as you wish people would be understanding and believe her, they most likely wouldn’t. At one point a character actually suggests that Kate brought her problems on herself and it’s at that moment when I felt genuine outrage and disappointment in them that I realised this game was telling a more honest and pointed story than any other game I’ve played before.
There were quite a few difficult decisions to make in episode two, decisions that felt like they had even more weight than the decisions of episode one. Although one of the most difficult decision I faced this episode was choosing between Belgian waffles or a bacon omelette. I like to think if I was Max, I’d pick one, rewind time, and eat the other. There was definitely more emphasis placed on the need to explore in this episode too; taking the time to explore Kate’s room and find out about her family wasn’t just interesting, it proved to be vital. Noticing things isn’t just a neat feature of Life is Strange as it initially appeared, it’s a test of how much you care, and it’s integral to effective gameplay.
Episode two is filled with emotion and it’s wonderfully voice acted, the voice acting actually seemed much improved from episode one. We’re learning more about Max’s power, and I’m glad to see that it’s beginning to have limitations because it made the ending feel so much more urgent and emotionally weighted. These limitations also help to keep Max as wonderfully real and human as she started out, rather than developing her into some kind of Time Lord, and they also make you worry for her more. Seeing red splotches at the side of the screen as you rewind time makes you hesitant to continue rewinding out of genuine concern you’re hurting her.
Like episode one, though, episode two might have its emotional highs, but it also has those quiet moments I enjoyed so much. The boring moments. The moments where you can sit and let the world go by, or enjoy time with Chloe, just appreciating the fact that a female friendship is being played out on screen with simple and honest intimacy.
As usual, the game world is a pleasure to explore. The ethereal quality of the animation, the rich vibrant settings, and the increasingly engaging characters make it easy to want to stop and smell the roses (or collect the bottles, as annoyed as I was by having to do a retrieval mission that just felt so out of place in a game of this kind).
Life is Strange episode two is an excellent build upon episode one, adding depth to characters and stories, moving beyond the high school archetypes and forging connections inside the game as well as between the game and the player. I liked episode one, but I loved episode two, so it’s safe to say I’m pretty damn excited for episode three!
Main Image via Flickr © JP Freethinker