Life is Strange is one of those games that I really want to love.
At its most basic level, it’s a game that should be perfect for me – it’s episodic, it deals with hard-hitting subjects which are rarely spoken about in video games, and the decisions you make have a quite obvious effect on the game world. Yet for some reason, I just can’t seem to develop a connection to the characters – and when your central focus is the characters which inhabit your game world, that has a detrimental impact on the whole package.
Out of Time begins right where the opening episode, Chrysalis, left off. Max wakes up in her room, where she’s been doing some serious research into the nature of time, trying to figure out exactly what it is that is going on and granted her the power to manipulate the flow of events. She then goes to meet disbelieving friend Chloe at her mom’s diner, where she spends her time trying to convince her that she really does have supernatural powers, before a showing-off session ends up having disastrous consequences.
The initial pace of Out of Time is much slower than the first episode, which itself wasn’t in any rush to move the plot forward. Such a languid pace can often bog down the overall experience, and so it is here. The opening five minutes of Out of Time are just as strong as the opening of the previous episode – I love the feel of the music as it sets up the scene, it works perfectly for the type of game it is – but after that, it starts to fall slightly flat. Nothing particularly noteworthy happened for a solid hour, and I felt that my choices weren’t affecting the game as much as they could have.
At this point, it’s worth noting the uneven quality of the script. I wouldn’t go as far as to say that the writing in Episode 2 is bad, but there are moments which really did make me cringe. Lines like “being a superhero is dirty work. I need a shower”, “Not now Max, I’m contemplating shit,” and my personal favorite, “Am I morbid, or just goth?” took me out of game and disconnected me from the story and characters. Which is a real shame, especially considering the content of this episode. Dontnod Entertainment clearly wants to try and convey teenagers as accurately as possible, but much like an adult attempting to prove it’s “down with the kids”, the results feel forced and irritatingly dated.
There are a lot of serious issues addressed by Dontnod in this episode. Along with the themes of bullying and drug issues that follow on from the story opener, the studio also explore ideas of depression and suicide. As I mentioned in my previous review of episode one, it’s refreshing to see a developer try and explore these idealogies to help move the medium forward; however, in this scenario, I felt no real connection to the characters. I’d listen to their thoughts and conversations, but I couldn’t feel any emotional investment in their lives. Maybe it’s just that the awkward writing that alienated me from them; maybe the deeper meaning behind them will be revealed in a future episode, and those feelings will begin to develop. But for now, I’m struggling to care about the unfolding dramas and dilemmas Max encounters.
Another thing that I felt really disconnected me from the episode was the content of the puzzles. At the end of the last episode, we came upon the realization that the town was in deep trouble, and only Max could stop it from happening. Yet that seemed to be completely swept under the rug here. Convincing Chloe that Max has powers was something that needed to be done of course; yet the time that it took to reach that point was completely overblown. In a two to three hour episode, I spent about half an hour persuading her in two different ways, then she swept me off to a scrapyard where I spent another half an hour finding bottles so she could shoot them over and over again. The relaxed atmosphere and pacing undermines the dramatic impact of what you know is coming.
In a full game that wasn’t being released episodically, all of this would be fine. Sometimes developers need to find some sort of filler content to make the game a bit more interactive – it’s why side quests are such a popular thing. But for a single episode, to spend just under half the running time on a minor aspect of the story just robs the experience of any urgency or forward momentum. By the time I’d come to the rest of the content, I didn’t actually care as much as I could have done; I was so fed up of having run around a scrapyard over and over again looking for bottles that I just felt myself anticipating the end of the episode more that I should have done. The cliffhanger ending came as more of a relief than a tantalizing teaser.
As I mentioned in my last review, I love the music in Life is Strange. It really adds something to the gameplay and story, and adds a completely chilled out and relaxed atmosphere to gameplay; however, at times during Out of Time, the gameplay and music didn’t match up, and tense situations suddenly felt incredibly relaxed because of it. I felt like I could take my time and be calm and composed, as the pace of my actions didn’t really matter. I had all the time in the world.
Out of Time just didn’t come across quite as strong as Chrysalis for me, and I felt character development and interaction was sorely missing through a great deal of this episode. Towards the end, I began to see that the decisions I made were making a difference in the story – which is always a positive in game like this – but it came a little too late. A combination of repetitive gameplay and tedious dialogue made me feel detached from both the characters and the story, sapping my motivation to continue.
The snippet of gameplay we saw for episode three, Chaos Theory, looks like the series is set to take a much darker turn. Will this be a positive for the series? Or will Chaos Theory continue to fall in the ways that Out of Time has? I guess we can only watch and wait for May to come around, as Life is Strange approaches its halfway point.