If Life is Strange’s first episode was the toe in the water, “Out of Time” is DONTNOD fully wading in. I found myself just as enamored and more with this entry, and despite some questionable segments, Life is Strange’s second episode cemented it as one of the best episodic series so far. Your spoiler-free assessment is that Episode 2 continues to be as awesome as the first episode – everything past this point will be spoilers, so steer clear if you don’t want to ruin some big moments.
Things Change and Stay the Same
Many things from the previous episode are still the same, so let’s address those immediately:
- The graphics are still that awesome, paint-style aesthetic
- The soundtrack is fan-freaking-tastic
- This is still an episodic game, focused on narrative and character interaction
Where Life is Strange differs from other episodic games is in the realistic nature of its story, despite the fantastical surroundings. By nature, it is a fantasy story – a girl with time-travel powers is pretty out there. But the issues that Max deals with are not about zombies or fables, but real issues.
!!! This is where spoilers start !!!
The best representation of this, and a central plot point in “Out of Time,” is a video of the conservative Christian girl Kate Marsh grabbing and making out with several members of Blackwell’s Vortex Club at a party. This is hinted at in the first episode, but those issues reach their climax by the end of episode 2, culminating in Max (and by proxy, you) trying to talk Kate down off the roof of the Girl’s Dormitories.
The Sound of Silence in Game Form
Now, some context is necessary before we get into that very important moment. Throughout Episode 2, you’re testing out the extent of Max’s powers. Playing little minigames to tell Chloe what she has in her pockets, predicting the immediate future, setting up crazy shots with Chloe’s gun – you make liberal use of rewind in this episode. As you experiment more, you begin to realize that Max’s powers have limits – and when you arrive at the rooftop, Kate standing on the ledge, you realize that because of how much you’ve used your powers throughout the day, you won’t be able to use them to help talk Kate down.
In my previous impressions piece, I talked a bit about how being able to rewind choices made them more impactful. You were aware of the immediate outcome, positive and negative, of all options, and have to choose them, compromising in hopes of choosing the best long-term result. Having your powers taken away on the rooftop, at a moment when you most need your rewind powers, is the most impactful moment Life is Strange has had so far.
It mirrors reality, in a way – talking down someone who is on the verge of hurting themselves or others is tricky, and I’m sure this scene triggered some painful memories for many players. That removal of the ability to re-do choices adds so much more weight to what you say, and more interestingly, it removes a level of gameification. You had a buffer previously, and that buffer was an artificial construct, one that acted as your safety net to pick dumb options or play carelessly, knowing you could rewind.
Removing that little safety net makes that situation all the more real – you only have one shot to save Kate, and you can’t rewind and fix it. It’s the “this isn’t a game anymore” moment, where taking away an option from the player shows the level of storytelling that can be achieved within the medium. It’s powerful, scary, and nerve-wracking, and it is exactly the kind of storytelling I love to see in these games. DONTNOD also included links to call centers and devoted a section of their site to talking about the issues present in that sequence – if you’d like to read more, you can do so at www.lifeisstrange.com/talk.
There are, however, moments in “Out of Time” that put a sour note on the otherwise brilliance of it. The aforementioned minigames you play with Chloe, to convince her of your power, are really, really boring and serve little purpose. Some require memorization of minutia (coins in her pocket, a cockroach crawling on a jukebox), while others require finding the world’s best-hidden beer bottle.
Time-based puzzles were another high point of the previous episode, but there’s only one that really sticks out as amazing in this one – a sequence where Chloe gets her boot stuck in a train track, and you have to find a way to free her as a train gradually approaches. There’s a definite window of opportunity to work within, and little guidance from the game. The train sequence captures a perfect blend of panic and calm, forcing you to try and approach the situation rationally and logically while a train’s horn is blaring and Chloe is screaming for help. A much better moment than the beer-bottle-shootout.
Short and Sweet
Episode 2 feels much shorter than the first, and it took me much less time to complete, clocking in at somewhere around an hour or two. That doesn’t mean there’s a distinct lack of content, though; there’s still lots of interactions to be had, people to chat with, and likely a few hidden choices I missed that might hurt me later on. Also, I only got a handful of the optional photos this time around, meaning I might play back through the episode just to find them all.
“Out of Time” does a good job of keeping the story going and moving many characters to where they need to be. It feels like every major player in the story now has a background and exposition, so expect Episode 3 to have a much faster pace and more intrigue into the case of Rachel Amber, an aspect missing from this episode. It resolved the plotlines it needed to, got the players in the right spots, and the stage is set for the next three episodes to twist and turn to our hearts’ content.
I’ve said it before, and I’ll say it again, because “Out of Time” has only reinforced my belief: You need to be playing Life is Strange. The human narrative, the inventiveness of the puzzles, the fantastic characters, and stellar VO and soundtrack make it a truly one-of-a-kind episodic experience.