Strange life, terrible consequences.

Life is Strange is not a game that takes consequences lightly. If the phrase “your actions affect the storyline” brings you out in hives due to painful flashbacks of Mass Effect 3’s lacklustre…well…everything, then take it from me – Square Enix is on track to get things right.

The second episode begins with main character Max Caulfield leaving her dorm room and witnessing fellow student and devout Christian Kate Marsh being bullied for a viral video that shows her making out with several students at a party. Talking to Kate reveals that she may have been drugged by a character you had a serious run in with in episode one, and there’s a big decision to be made on the player’s part that drastically affects the outcome of the game. Max eventually visits the diner where her friend Chloe’s mother Joyce works as a waitress and meets Chloe there (you remember her – rebel without a cause and walking expletive machine with a pot habit). They decide to experiment with Max’s power at Chloe’s secret hideout, an old junk yard that houses more secrets than even Chloe knows about (depending on how thoroughly you explore it), and from there things take a turn for the perilous.

It’s easy to find yourself second guessing – and in some cases regretting – every decision you’ve made until this point.

To say any more of the chapter’s plot would be to spoil not only the storyline but the extent to which your decisions impact the course of the game. But take it from me, even the most innocent of decisions from this episode and the previous one have ramifications and when these become clear it’s easy to find yourself second guessing – and in some cases regretting – every decision you’ve made until this point. Not bad for chapter two out of five.

Without giving anything away or outright stating examples, the episode concludes with a pretty shocking event that can result in the death of another character if you’ve made the wrong decisions throughout the game so far. The decision to intervene in the previous episode, and dialogue choices you make in this one, will determine whether you can save the individual. If you performed certain actions in the first chapter and chose certain dialogue options in the second, the character will perish because there’s not enough ‘proof’ that you care about them, but to save them requires more than just the right combination of choices in the previous entry. You have to have explored the character’s living quarters adequately and found hints as to what you should say when the moment of crisis occurs. If you didn’t do so, nothing short of a lucky guess or an internet walkthrough will save them.

Max Power Drain

The situation is made even more perilous because Max’s time rewinding powers are on the fritz. There are instances throughout the second chapter where you see her developing nosebleeds or not being able to rewind as far as she should be able to as a consequence of over-using her powers. This adds a nice sense of urgency to the end of chapter crisis because you can’t just rewind time and undo everything, Superman: The Movie Style. You have to rely on nothing but your judgement to get you through, and rest assured, if the character dies, there is no rewind option. They stay dead.

Enjoy the moment of calm ladies, it won't last.

Enjoy the moment of calm ladies, it won’t last.

Having played through the chapter three times under different save files, it’s clear that there are multiple paths through the game even at this early stage. Dialogue options can be completely different, characters appear or don’t appear and even die depending on the choices you make. There’s a tense moment where a character gets their foot stuck in a traintrack just as a speeding train approaches that stretches the nerves to breaking point – you only have a limited amount of time that you can rewind (not enough to go back and tell the fool not to sit on a train line, annoyingly enough) and just like in real life, there are no prompts telling you what to do. All the game tells you is the glaringly obvious- you need to help free them. How you do it is up to you, but don’t expect any mystical shining items to help you, for this is a game that wants you to think, not just run around looking for objects that glow and stand out from the scenery.

The episode also deals with some surprisingly deep themes, and it’s been a long times since a game has been so engaging or made me feel such an emotional attachment to the characters. Maybe it’s because they feel so real, because they’re just teens trying to deal with issues such as loss, abandonment, bullying and sexual abuse rather than heroic figures running around trying to save the world from some great evil (or non-Americans in the case of certain FPS titles) but for whatever the reason, when something happens to them, it stings. The issues covered here are real enough that the episode even concludes with a message asking young people who are experiencing similar feelings to visit the game’s website where they can find a directory of groups who can help with issues such as rape and suicide.

A review code of Life is Strange was provided courtesy of Square Enix. The game was reviewed on PlayStation 4. 

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