Middle episodes tend to make or break an episodic gaming series. A duff second or third episode can completely derail a game’s momentum, and seriously reduce an audience’s interest. Life is Strange Episode 2 – Out of Time treads all the same ground as its predecessor, but it also takes great steps in furthering the series’ larger overarching narrative. If Episode 1 was a quirky, Twin Peaks-y oddity, Out of Time represents Life is Strange‘s attempts to tackle some more serious issues than the artistic merits of a “selfie.”
Episode 2 finds Max and Chloe coming to terms with Max’s new time manipulation powers; Chloe insists that they use said powers to “have fun” and “fight the system”, whereas Max is rather more cautious. We start proceedings in a familiar fashion: Max wakes up and explores her dorm, encountering and investigating the usual suspects. Conniving Victoria has managed to spread an incriminating viral video of devout Christian Kate Marsh, which takes its toll on the already fragile Kate. Warren is still a lovable goof, and the “popular girls” are still embroiled in romantic drama behind the scenes. Once again, these moments are the strongest in the series – everyone at Blackwell Academy is a finely crafted, mysterious character, annd there are always oodles of juicy gossip waiting just an inappropriate Max Caulfield question away. Life is Strange still excels as a “walking around chatting and looking at posters” game, which is no mean feat. It takes great skill, character design and writing to make the process of effectively living a normal college kid’s life as interesting as this.
Max and her reunited “BFF” Chloe are still fun to spend time with. At this point it feels as though we know them as though they were kids we knew in school, kids who drifted apart due to circumstances out of their control. Everyone has that childhood best friend they fell out of touch with, and Life is Strange captures this dynamic perfectly in Max and Chloe. Of course, all of this works in spite of their ever cringe inducing vocabulary, which, although less noticeable than in Episode 1, still remains a grating presence, and a significant stumbling block in the way of some otherwise strong dialogue. Try playing the Life is Strange Drinking Game – knock back a Sambuca every time someone says “hella”, “Beeatch” or “Rock star”.
Max and Chloe’s character moments, though charming to watch unfold, take a toll on the Life is Strange‘s unique time travel gameplay. Chloe orders Max to prove that she has powers by subjecting her to riveting games of Guess What’s in My Pockets and What Stuff is Going to Happen Next. This feels like a colossal waste of a genuinely interesting mechanic, especially after Max already put her abilities to greater use in Episode 1.
Out of Time benefits from taking some of the focus away from Max. Shining more of a spotlight on Chloe, Warren, Kate and the other secondary players makes Max’s endlessly inquisitive nature less irritating, and gives the game’s broader narrative more space to breathe. Even previously universally hated characters like David Madsen are given a shake-up – he still comes off as an arsehole, but his motivations are made clearer during an eye-opening exchange with Max in the school corridors.
The breadth and quality of the series’ voice acting really hits home in Episode 2. Though Max still suffers from Adventure Game Protagonist Syndrome, her voice feels solid and believable, as do stand out performances from Nik Shriner and Dayeanne Hutton as Nathan and Kate respectively.
Episode 2 also manages to dial back the incessant referencing, and reduces most of its pop culture nods to hidden Easter Eggs scrawled on surfaces. This means that dialogue has a more natural flow, and the references that remain are all the more satisfying to see (spotting “I Aim To Misbehave” and “Fire Walk With Me” in Joyce’s diner made me grin like a Cheshire cat). There are still some unnecessary shout outs to Kerouac and other such Lit-cred figures, but they’re infrequent enough that they feel unimportant, or like something that a wayward teen would try to shoehorn into conversation. Though it has its problems, it can never be said that Life is Strange isn’t earnest in its attempts to recreate the turbulence and turmoil of teenage life.
After a fairly meandering start, Episode 2, and the series proper, comes into its own in Out of Time‘s closing moments, when Life is Strange enters darker territory than anyone could have anticipated. Not Bloodborne or Christopher Nolan dark, mind, the real, tangible darkness that comes from living through tough situations and battling gargantuan hormonal waves. As Max’s powers increase, they begin to adversely affect her health, and alter the lives and relationships of those around her. Though Life is Strange is undoubtedly playing a long game, building up to immense payoff come episodes four and five, it’s nice to see decisions we made in Episode 1 already altering the Blackwell landscape.
Although Episode 2 feels somewhat like a filler episode, Out of Time fixes enough of the first episode’s niggling issues, and teases enough of the coming Episode’s drama to still feel worthwhile. And that ending. Wow.