Life Is Strange 2 - Episode 2: Rules Review
This review contains potential SPOILERS for the previous episode. The reviews for the first episode can be found here: Episode 1 - Roads
Given the second episode of Dontnod’s sequel to Life Is Strange is entitled Rules, it seems to make very little difference whether you follow them or not. After a superbly paced opening chapter which introduced us to the Diaz brothers just before they were forced on the run, Rules slows down the action — and indeed, the story — to a glacial pace. The bold choices and political commentary which made Roads so distinct have been pushed to the background, with the result being a noticeably less enjoyable and far less memorable experience.
Even so, most of the elements that make up a good episode of Life Is Strange are present. The supernatural MacGuffin was revealed previously when we learned nine-year-old Daniel Diaz had the power to move objects with his mind. The angst and familial tension are also here, thanks to older brother Sean desperately trying to teach him to keep that power a secret from the rest of the world, when all Daniel wants to do is make his toys fly around the room. And it’s all cocooned in a safe environment where we know that no matter what happens, it’s unlikely that a messy fate will befall either boy at this early stage in the story.
The game tries to drum up a bit of drama at the beginning as the brothers struggle to put food on the table after a few weeks living in a deserted house. Snow surrounds them and Daniel has picked up a cold he cannot shake, prompting Sean to set them both on the path to their grandparents’ house in Beaver Creek. Before that can happen though, Daniel needs to learn how to channel his gift — the problem is that the story does little other than offer a few rocks and cans as an outlet for him to do so. Since Sean is the protagonist and not Daniel, the agency you had in the first Life Is Strange with Max’s time-travelling powers is nowhere to be seen here. You feel as helpless as Sean, chiding and pleading with Daniel to do the right thing while trying to set a good example. Without spoiling things, an early and unexpected confrontation which is supposed to shock instead feels like the writers trying to keep the story as narrowly focused as possible, which is a real shame.
Where Roads brought tension to the table was in deciding who to trust after things went south. Brody might have initially seemed like a weirdo, but he ended up being a guardian angel and a likeable guy. This time around the boys have their grandparents on their estranged mother’s side to deal with. The problem is that as soon as they arrive at Beaver Creek, the whole episode grinds to a halt. Life Is Strange has always found interesting nuggets in relatively mundane situations, but it really struggles to do so here. The elderly couple are as straight-laced as you might expect in a backwater town, conservative Christian folk with a penchant for model trains, good cooking and romance novels. But while their estrangement from their grandchildren throws up the opportunity to learn about each other, nothing of interest actually comes to light. Instead, with the boys off the grid and going stir crazy, you’re treated to such exciting tasks as eating breakfast, doing laundry and (gasp!) going out with a neighbour to find a Christmas tree.
On this last point, the story does begin to develop, as it reintroduces us to Chris Eriksen, the protagonist from the free standalone episode The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Yet even then the plot squanders Chris and his father’s appearance, making their inclusion more of an afterthought than anything significant. Only the closing couple of minutes of the three-hour running time really feel impactful, and it’s entirely possible that many players won’t even experience it due to the choices they’ve made throughout the episode. Whereas dialogue choices or action decisions followed a logical thread to appropriate consequences in Roads, it’s unclear whether Sean telling Daniel to use his powers to help people early on will also prompt him to do so later on down the line — and that ambiguity hurts the story overall.
Maybe it was the decision to tone back the political rhetoric and replace it with small-town comments about millennials and snowflakes which jarred, but in doing so the game plays it far too safe and loses part of the edge that made the first chapter so compulsive to play. The voice acting is as good as you’d expect, but the dialogue being delivered is clunky, and in the case of Daniel’s relentless “I’m a kid playing games!” antics, often irritating. Rules shines when the brothers are discussing their situation alone, reminiscing about the past, what could have been, and what they need to do next. Their bond is at the core of Life Is Strange 2 and the game flags when it strays from that arc. There is minimal danger throughout, almost no control over the “strange” abilities which would otherwise separate it from a normal domestic drama, decisions which don’t feel like they have much impact, and a conclusion that made me shrug my shoulders. Despite being as slickly produced and musically on point as it ever was, as the credits rolled the overwhelming feeling I had was of apathy, something that I’ve never experienced from Life Is Strange before.
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