Platforms:PC/Steam, PS3, PS4, Xbox One, XBOX 360 | Developer: DONTNOD Entertainment | Publisher: Square Enix | ESRB: M | Controls: Keyboard, Gamepad
DONTNOD Entertainment in partnership with Square Enix released Chrysalis, the first in episodic adventure game series Life is Strange, in late January. Now roughly two months later the second entry in their series, Out of Time, is ready to go. When we left Max Caufield, she had become fully aware of her ability to rewind time. This was set against the backdrop of her rediscovery of an old friend and the uncovering of several mysteries, all seemingly interconnected, at her small college set in a fictional town on the Oregon Coast. She also has recurring visions of a monster tornado coming to destroy the town, which seems to be if not confirmed, at least plausible given the strange happenings.
DONTNOD has expanded their narrative into some dark and interesting places — in this episode they tackle some very heavy subject matter. There are still some issues with regards to performance and pacing, but nothing that troubles the experience much. Let’s take a deeper look at Out of Time.
Now reunited with her friend Chloe, Max starts to experiment with her power and begins to wonder if it is related to her visions or the weird snow from the day before.”
Episode 1 – In Rewind
Our introduction to main character Max began in a vision of a swirling vortex approaching her hometown, viewed from a lighthouse area, set high on a bluff overlooking the coast. When she awakens in the middle of class, there is something clearly wrong. She begins to discover her ability to effectively rewind time in small increments. Freaked out by this self-diagnosis, she promptly excuses herself from class only to stumble upon another crazy event.
Nathan, rich-kid jerk, is arguing with someone in the women’s bathroom. This will eventually turn out to be Max’s old, best friend Chloe. Nathan pulls a gun on Chloe and shoots her. As Max cries out, times freezes. She rewinds what has happened and prevents Chloe’s death. Things only become more difficult to understand after that.
Max turns Nathan into the principal. He doesn’t seem to be taking this gun threat seriously… it becomes apparent that Nathan’s family, the Prescotts, own more than half of the town, and hold influence over the college. People are afraid to go after them, and if their devious little son is any indicator of the rest of the family, they should be. Nathan is out for revenge, confronting and threatening Max and beating up her friend Warren. Chloe arrives at the last moment to drive Max to safety.
These two girls haven’t seen each other in years. Max had gone off to Seattle to try school there for awhile, while Chloe stayed in Arcadia Bay and fell in with some bad elements. She owes some unsavory characters money, is often in trouble with the law and always at odds with her new step-father, David (her dad died in a car accident a few years back). New step-dad happens to be the security officer for Blackwell College, where Max attends. This is the same guy who we see harassing the sad, shy, student Kate.
Kate’s story is one of the many interwoven threads to our greater mystery. There is some sort of viral video of her spreading around campus. It’s related to The Vortex Club, a group of rich, powerful partying types from Blackwell. Chloe is connected in some way too, as she reveals that she was drugged at a party by none other than Nathan Prescott. Beyond that, Chloe was best friends with Rachel Amber, who has gone missing.
Episode 2 – Out of Time
Reading all of that, it probably sounds like a soap opera. But the way the narrative is so intricately constructed, it feels more like a premium cable drama than any sort of day-time drivel. Rachel Amber’s disappearance seems to be an undercurrent to our tale, but it’s just as much at the forefront as Max’s emerging powers. All of the questions and misdirection from our characters hint at being tied to this girls disappearance.
But life goes on in Blackwell Academy and a certain viral video has become a major topic of discussion. Meanwhile, what did happen to Rachel Amber?
Many of our characters main interests — or at least, their overriding traits — are easy to figure out. Their larger motivations and how they fit within the overall plot are not. This is what makes the mystery feel like something out of pointillism. Each individual dot is a specific point of emphasis. It’s a clue, a piece of the puzzle, urging us to find the larger picture. Just as in pointillism, to comprehend the larger sense of things, to have the clearest vision, we have to step back to see the totality of things — that provides the clearest view.
We know that Nathan Prescott is a bad guy. His money and power make him feel above everyone else, including the law. We also know he has drugged at least one person probably more. Are these attempts at a sexual assault? Or something more sinister… heavy stuff. He’s pulled a gun on one of Max’s friends, and also physically attacked another. In this episode his threats extend directly to Max. His guilt seems obvious, which may be what rules him out as the suspect in the larger sense. Still, we don’t know how what his motives are or how far they will drive him.
Chloe’s step-dad David, is an over-bearing, on-the-edge, former combat veteran. He spies on students and his step-daughter alike. His goal is to install security cameras in every section of the school. David also has detailed information of missing student Rachel Amber, along with an arsenal of weapons in his garage. Yet he seems to take a step back in episode two. He plays the gruff security guard, but also reiterates his stance of wanting to make Blackwell and its students safe.
Out of Time will probably expand your suspect list, depending on how closely you are taking things in. The game’s strength rests firmly within the little details. A great example is, checking out a note in the room of a fellow student will give you an inroad to protecting them them from a huge threat later on… missing that small detail could lead to disaster. Explore the environment. Little things here and there will enhance your understanding of the larger story… filling in your canvas with all those dots of emphasis.
Technically speaking there isn’t anything new here for the second episode. I had a few quirks coming out of the rewind feature, like entire lines of repeated dialogue being read in slow motion. It was rare, but it happened. When rewinding in some of the larger areas, it’s easy to forget that Max stays in place, while everything else goes backwards — if you’ve moved to a whole new part of the area, you may forget where the action started. This is a tiny annoyance at best.
The rewind mechanic is at its best and worst in this episode. Narratively speaking, it kicks off the strongest, most harrowing, upsetting and powerful sequence of the series thus far, right before you lose the ability to use it temporarily. This is a great way to reinforce the idea that rewinding is a temporary solution — a quick change — but that ultimately the final decision, and thus the unchangeable outcome, is up to you and Max. It’s also used for a forced section in a junkyard that screams, “Hey rewinding is cool, we need to use it more, but don’t have a great way for it to fit the narrative at this point.” Of course this section is immediately followed by one that is of absolute importance to the story.
The most complaints are going to be coming from people in regards to the dialogue and perhaps the pacing. But I suspect the majority of negatives will be focused on the dialogue delivery. While I definitely felt there were wild swings in tone and lingo, I have to again suggest taking a step back. I am not a girl on the verge of womanhood, nor am I anywhere near being a teenager. I don’t live in a small coastal town, and I certainly don’t have any new superpowers, rewinding time or otherwise.
Max is a shy, mostly introverted photography student. She has tasted life in the big city, but has roots in this tiny coastal town. She likes “fringe” things. She’s a self-described geek. At times she is a child, and her dialogue reflects this. Still, she is in many ways, wise beyond her years. This is the foundation for the contrast in her dialogue, and indeed almost every character’s. Most of these kids are transitioning into adults. Chloe has the added rebellion factor, paired with the tragedy of a lost parent. In many ways she is stuck in the past, even as she outgrows the town and the age appropriateness of being a rebellious teen. Perspective is important.
Life is Strange – Episode 2 – Out of Town takes DONTNOD’s story to a new level, including a penultimate scene that will drastically divide opinions and change player’s games moving forward. Proving that choices do matter. It was such a strong, dark, subject that I did something I rarely do in my first plays of episodic games… I immediately went back to change the outcome. I can’t wait to play more and inch closer, or should I say farther back – away from each painted dot, until I can see the whole image and solve the mystery.
No review copy was provided.