Life is Strange 2 Episode 3 Review – One step forward, two steps back

Platforms:
Playstation 4Xbox OneMicrosoft Windows
Released:
September 27, 2018
Publisher:
Square Enix
Developer:
Dontnod Entertainment

Review

With the latest episode of Life is Strange 2, Daniel and Sean find themselves among new friends, enemies, and environments to challenge them. While the variety of settings and locations is a stark contrast to the Arcadia Bay-based Life is Strange and Before the Storm, all the travel has made it hard for the series to let it’s roots take hold. The result is stunted characters, awkward interactions, and “threat of the week” narrative plodding that fails to uphold the legacy of the franchise so far.

Need to catch up on Life is Strange 2? Check out my review of Episode 1: Roads here, and my review of Episode 2: Rules here.

It’s hard to pinpoint where Life is Strange 2 Episode 3, titled ‘Wastelands’, falls apart. It’s somewhere between the “edgy” mini-game of cutting up buds of weed for your local drug-lord employer, and the exceptionally awkward skinny dipping scene with Cassidy about 3/4 through the episode. Where there is the opportunity for great character moments with an expanded cast in this episode, there fails to be any sort of substance there when the conversations actually take place. For a series lauded for it’s character development this is a big swing-and-a-miss.

“…Life is Strange 2 doesn’t, in my opinion, handle the supernatural elements with nearly enough grace as the original…”

Up to this point I have thoroughly enjoyed my experience with the Life is Strange franchise. While Life is Strange 2 doesn’t, in my opinion, handle the supernatural elements with nearly enough grace as the original did, I was pleasantly surprised with how well the narrative was coming together, until now.

Without a true anchor holding the series down, this season of the episodic saga is flip-flopping around trying to find it’s feet – but we’re already across the halfway point. I do worry about how the season is going to wrap up, especially considering where this episode leaves us.

While the backbone of the episode, and season at large, is falling apart there are some bright sparks amidst the dullness. Episode 3 dials up the interactivity when compared to previous episodes – you’ve got knife throwing, interactive weed cultivation, a dynamic vehicle heist, and actual training sessions with Daniel on offer in ‘Wastelands’. This makes a big impact when the major drawcard, an enjoyable story and characters, takes a dip in quality.

Daniel makes some major strides with the development of his power in Episode 3, resulting in many more opportunities to utilise his gifts in regular interactions. Pressing L2/LT allows you to access unique options when interacting with people and items in the environment, with some dramatic and comedic payoffs.

Wrapping up, I have to mention that the sound quality and music is also off in this episode. To my ears, the voice recording is much lower quality than previous episodes, and the mix sounds thick and muddy. After testing both my TV speakers and official Sony Headphones, something is amiss. Life is Strange often expertly matches laid-back indie tracks to the drama and visuals on screen, but here it just feels cheap and tacky.

It is a shame to give ‘Wastelands’ such a poor review, but after such a long wait between episode 2 and 3 it feels like there should have been more on offer here. I sincerely hope Dontnod are able to pick up the pieces in episode 4 and stick the landing in the finale, but my expectations have been significantly lowered. A surprise ending is not enough to salvage a weak episode, in my view, and while the ending to episode 3 certainly keeps the player on the hook for the next episode I fear that failure to follow through will result in lack of ongoing love for Life is Strange as a whole.