As part of Gamereactor UK's new policy towards episodic titles, we'll discuss individual episodes as they release but leave a final roundup verdict until the entire season is completed. As a reflection on that, these recaps will also pinpoint the strongest and weakest elements we found in each episode, and as such contain spoilers.
It's been a couple of months since the release of the first episode of Life is Strange and in retrospect it was largely setting the stage, introducing us to the characters, town and impending doom (the tornado that Max sees in a vision). Most importantly it set up Max's new super power - her ability to rewind time to alter events and dialogue options.
Where the first episode had its fair share of drama, things take a darker turn in "Out of Time". We learn more of the the Vortex Club and the troubles of Kate Marsh takes centre stage. There is much for Max to consider. How does she best support her classmate and is it even that important? Of course, it is. Everything in Arcadia Bay is connected and we find it difficult to play a careless Max who doesn't look out for her friends (even her enemies at times).
It's seems Chloe is essentially won over. At times it is as if the last five years when the two friends were out of touch never happened. It's something that's easy to relate to. We all have childhood friends that we effortlessly chat with ten years after seeing them last as if no time at all had passed. We take a bus from our dorms and away from Kate's problems to see her. The bus ride offers the first real technical issues we've had with the game as the cinematic stutters and there's even some texture pop-in. Here we're also introduced to a rewind puzzle that isn't very enjoyable, and we have to do two variations of it back to back. Basically it involves committing details to memory and then retelling them to Chloe in order to prove our powers.
As you'd assume Chloe's reaction to Max having these powers is that she wants to have some fun with it. Thankfully her first thought (to sleep with someone and then just rewind time) doesn't come to fruition, instead we go to Chloe's refuge - the scrapyard. This is a rather beautifully rendered area and it offers a bit of exploration and side content (as those the outside of the diner). Exploration is something that Life is Strange does really well. There's a lot of detail to take in.
The scrapyard also properly introduces Frank - a seemingly shady character - who has been foreshadowed plenty in the preceding 3-4 hours of gameplay. Once again we're forced into a choice without really knowing where it will lead as he pulls a knife on Chloe to threaten her. We have a gun - do we shoot or cower and surrender it? It's likely to have a major impact on later chapters. But at this point we can only really take the short-term into account.
What happens next in the episode is something that really illustrates what Life is Strange is capable of. Kate isn't doing well. Not at all. And it all boils down to a scene on the roof of the dorms. There are tons of small and large decisions that feed into the conversations we have with Kate. It's not just what we say, but also what we've done leading up to this event. At this point Max has used up her powers and so the conversation isn't something that can be replayed (well, you can of course restart the chapter and try again, but that's cheating). In some ways it irks us to have this mechanic removed for the sake of the narrative, but on the other hand it makes it all the more meaningful and immerses us in that moment. This time things matter and we cannot go back. It's a powerful moment, and even if Kate felt like a very insignificant side character at first, we actually cared for her by the time we got to this point.
After the scene on the roof plays out we find ourselves in the principal's office where we're basically asked to blame someone for what happened. We haven't been forthcoming with the principal about everything and this makes it a very tough choice. There's always a lingering feeling of being mislead, everything may not be what it seems. This little scene is a great example of the game design that powers Life is Strange. It's not just about that choice, but also about a ton of different choices leading up to it that will affect the outcome of our choice.
At the end of the day Life is Strange is probably going to be a game we'll go back and replay parts of, changing our decisions (but only after seeing it through to the end). Even with Max's powers you're going to have regrets as you see things play out and Dontnod should really be commended at how openly they've designed the game for you to go back and replay any section of a chapter either to gather optional photos (while not altering any decisions) or overwriting decisions you've previously made.
It took us a little longer to play through the second episode, likely because the decisions are getting increasingly more difficult. Some of the puzzles were a bit more time consuming than what was the case in episode one. Not necessarily a bad thing, but in this case it broke the immersion a bit. Overall, we're happy about the road the game is taking, but we're a bit perplexed we haven't gotten further with the mystery surrounding Rachel Amber's disappearance. Three episodes remain.
We reviewed the first episode of Life is Strange (with score and all) over here - from here on we'll review each episode with this kind of recap and then we'll review the full season (with a score) as it concludes.
(Livestream Replay of Life is Strange episode 1 + the start of episode 2 -begins at 1:42)