[Reminder: the next Let’s Read will start on the 12th of April]
I had initially planned on waiting until all five episodes of Life is Strange are out before reviewing the rest, mostly because you have to buy parts 2-5 together, but after the first episode the game got its hooks into me firmly enough that I wanted to talk about it some more. Keep in mind that I’ll be pretty cavalier with spoilers for preceding episodes in these reviews- I won’t talk about any really dramatic story twists, but if you want to play the episodes fresh, avoid.
At the end of the first episode Max revealed her time-rewinding abilities to Chloe after a sudden flash-forward (OR WAS IT) seemingly indicating that Arcadia Bay is going to be destroyed by a giant tornado in four days. That particular mystery can’t be easily solved, but what they can do is start trying to find Rachel Amber, Chloe’s missing friend.
At the same time, the web of student intrigue hinted at in the first episode starts to grow, taking in ripped-from-the-headlines issues like cyber-bullying and rape culture as Max tries to support a fellow student being tormented over a video of her at a party.
“Player choice” is often held up as a sort of holy grail when it comes to story-driven games- in the days before Gamergate the big videogame controversy was Mass Effect 3 and its distinct lack of any real long-term consequences to player’s choices from the preceding two games, despite Bioware’s hyped up claims to the contrary. That particular wound doesn’t appear to have fully healed and a lot of people still seem to yearn for an experience that will genuinely react to their decisions.
I tend to think this is a bit of a misguided goal to aim for, for various reasons, but I have to admire how Life Is Strange commits to it. One of the side-plots in Out Of Time can end in one of two very different ways depending on both the big, obvious “THIS IS GOING TO BE IMPORTANT” capital-C choices and the smaller actions you do or don’t take throughout the episode. At the nail-biting climax I was repeatedly confronted with the fact that seemingly throw-away objects I had looked at or interacted with previously were actually far more important than they appeared, in a way that mostly feels organic and well implemented. It’s an impressive realization of a concept that has mostly been a kind of gaming unicorn up to this point.
Coupled with this is the new revelation that Max’s time manipulation powers aren’t unlimited and might not always be there when you need them. From a story perspective it is slightly cheap to suddenly take the ability to rewind away as soon as a life or death situation comes up, but mechanically it’s understandable, and the episode does a good job of building up to the fact that over-using Max’s powers can have negative side-effects.
Speaking of time powers, this episode lets itself off the leash a bit when it comes to the puzzles. They’re a bit more creative than last time around and the game isn’t as ham-fisted at pointing you to the correct solution, which is a welcome change I hope continues, but at the same time some of the puzzle sections feel a bit like padding. There’s a particularly draggy fetch-quest halfway through that seems to exist just to encourage the player to explore a new area, something I would have happily done anyway.
The first episode introduced a lot of different balls to juggle, and I was a bit anxious about how Life Is Strange was going to keep them in the air going forward. The mysteries of Rachel Amber and Max’s abilities are only pushed forward by a tiny degree, but like all good episodic stories there’s enough else going on that I’m not particularly anxious to see the big questions answered. The relationship between Max and Chloe continues to be the game’s anchor point- Dontnod make the very confident move of having a large portion of this episode just be the two of them fucking around in the woods- and it helps to keep the (seemingly) disconnected plot threads from feeling out of control.
The facial animation and lip-syncing still leaves a lot to be desired and the writing still trips over itself into embarrassingly tone-deaf teen speak on occasion, but on balance I find Out Of Time an encouraging sign that the fascinating premise set up in the first episode is going to be worth it for the long haul. The fact that it has an absolutely killer ending with huge potential ramifications for how big in scope the story is going to get helps a lot.
When I reviewed the first episode I felt secure in giving it a thumbs up based on the fact that you can buy it on its own for the relatively cheap sum of five dollars; from here on out, if you want to get on board the Life Is Strange train you’re committing to it for the entire journey. Despite a few serious rough edges that seem like they’ll be present for the rest of the game, I feel confident that my money was well spent on the season pass.