Life Is Strange is a five part episodic series that will be delivered over the next few months. This review is for Episode 2, titled Out of Time. It will attempt to cover the value of Episode 2 both by itself and as part of a larger experience. More importantly, given how important the story is to experience Life Is Strange, this review is spoiler free but may contain light spoilers for the first episode.Life Is Strange follows Maxine Caulfield, or Max for short. Returning to her hometown of Arcadia Bay in Oregon, she enrols in a prestigious academy as senior photography student, working with some of the most prestigious in the business. The academy is rife with rumours and speculations regarding the mysterious disappearance of Rachel Amber, a girl whose reputation changes depending on who you talk to.
Without spoiling, the events of Life Is Strange are thrown into motion when Max reunites with her estranged best friend Chloe, whose father died the year that Max left town. To make matters even more coincidental (or perhaps not), while Chloe was grieving for the loss of her father, she became involved with Rachel, the same girl who disappeared under mysterious circumstances. With a shared mutual interest and lots of time to make up for, Max and Chloe decide to investigate Rachel’s disappearance together.The second episode is titled Out Of Time, and much like the first episode it couldn’t be a more apt title. Several mysteries from the original episode are left untouched thus far, but characters are developed cleverly to make players question whether the mysteries revealed in the original episode were as sinister as we once thought. As you’d expect, the episode is structured in a way to keep you interested and intrigued but keeps you wanting more by the time it’s done.
But realistically speaking, Out of Time focuses more on Max and her relationships with other characters rather than a looming threat to the entirety of the academy. It results in a story experience that not only feels more personal and closer to the player and Max but one that rewards those who play while paying full attention to the events. I’ve never been in such a situation presented in Out of Time before but I daresay the experience presented would be somewhat similar if it were to happen in real life.Life Is Strange’s second episode doesn’t vary much from the first in terms of presentation. The game still utilises a unique and quirky visual style that is best described as The OC meets Instagram. It’s dreamlike and idyllic, and it’s unapologetically “indie” flavoured in its presentation.
Character models themselves still look pretty good although roughy, but their highly stylised look manages to hide most of their shortcomings. The typical problems you’d expect from a game built using the Unreal Engine such as texture pop-in are still evident here.The voice work in Episode 2 is not anywhere near as bad as the first episode was – there’s less cringe worthy lines here and there but overall the script feels a lot more mature in how it’s written and delivered compared to the original episode.
Much like the original episode, the mix of original and licensed indie music is used to great effect to give greater emotional weight to almost all of the scenes in Life Is Strange – nothing feels tacky or overdone.At its core, Life Is Strange is pretty typical adventure game. There’s little to no emphasis on action or combat and there’s not even a wide range of puzzles either. Instead, Life Is Strange opts to focus on a strong narrative experience as well as strong character interactions. You control Max directly, and can look or inspect at most things throughout the game world or interact with them if context permits.
While it’s a largely linear affair, each area Max visits has quite a few things for her to do. She can speak to almost everyone she comes across to learn new things about both the missing girl and the person she’s talking to. She can play around with items to look for photo opportunities, or even snoop around certain areas in the game but with an assumed consequence.The crux of Life Is Strange’s gameplay comes with the idea of the “Butterfly Effect”, the idea that the change of something small somewhere will somehow largely influence future and current events. Some of these changes are pretty obvious and blatantly presented to the player – for example whether you report suspicious behaviour to a member of staff.
Others are seemingly small but might have bigger changes later on in the story – actions as simple as watering the plant in your dorm or drawing words into a dusty van window will presumably have consequences in future episodes. The choices Max makes are permanent, and while the idea of these choices having ramifications throughout the rest of the story, it definitely feels like this idea and concept will be better realised in later episodes as the story begins to develop greater depth and tie itself up.What really makes Life Is Strange unique is its Rewind mechanic – a power we’re sure everyone wishes they had in school. As an example, if Max (and by extension, the player) says something wrong you’re able to rewind time to try it all over again. The kicker? Max retains memory of everything she’s witnessed and items she obtains.
This separates it from other games that manipulate time and allows the developers to incorporate some interesting situations throughout the episode. The second episode of Life Is Strange plays around with this a lot more than the first episode did – making Max apply her powers to get ahead in her own personal situations. If the first episode was the explanation of Max’s powers, the second episode feels more like a masterclass in the practical applications of them – more so than the first episode, at least.What I particularly enjoy about Life Is Strange is how it doesn’t make any assumptions about player agency. If you wish, you can rewind as much as you want to experience all dialogue options before choosing to move the story forward. If you want to play it blind, you can do that too. But it’s the options on offer here that make things really interesting. One particular choice leads to a piece of knowledge that seems pretty important for Max to know – to the point where I couldn’t understand how the story could play out if said piece of knowledge wasn’t uncovered. Life Is Strange’s lack of apprehensiveness about players not experiencing everything it has to offer makes it feel more confident, in a way.
The point is that if you want to involve yourself in the story completely, the game lets you. There’s several journal entries dating back some time that help get you into Max’s character and her thoughts long before you even started playing as her. You feel like you’ve been put into the middle of a living, breathing world that’s existed long before you even started experiencing it. But if none of that is for you, the game is happy and confident to let you progress without doing so. That being said, the second episode of the game is definitely one where you’ll want to be paying attention to everything that happens to help you best towards the end of the episode.Replayability is almost always going to be an issue with episodic titles, especially when considering them both by themselves and as a whole. But Life Is Strange feels competitively priced considering how much content is on offer here. In Australia, each episode will cost $6.65 while the season pass will set you back roughly $20. For each episode, you can expect roughly between two and three hours for a standard play through, though the sheer amount of choices on offer (and multiple save slots) means that you’ll be sure to get more than that out of the game should you wish. Thankfully, given its writing and pacing, Life Is Strange feels appropriately priced without outstaying its welcome nor underwhelming the player.
But its overall experience easily rests on the magnitude of the consequences that will arise from the choices we’ve made in the game. Given the nature of these choices and their consequences thus far, great things can be expected from Life Is Strange. The second episode in particular, while only dealing with smaller issues, will be exciting to continue from given all the different choices and opportunities available.Life is Strange: Episode 2 – Out of Time feels like a great continuation of the stories and character arcs established in the first episode of Life Is Strange. It pushes aside the more immediate and wide reaching threat and instead focuses on a smaller and more personal problem that Max and some of her peers have encountered at the academy.
The switch from a major more wide reaching problem to a smaller and more personal one really paid off for Episode 2 – as it makes the pacing feel a little bit more even rather than just focusing on the big problem and ignoring everything else. Technically speaking, it’s still a little bit of a mess – the lip syncing issues are going to be here for the entire season and I assume the texture pop-in too. But it’s still a fun and unique experience I recommend.
With so many branching choices – it’s going to be super interesting to see how Life Is Strange plays out for all it’s players.