Life is Strange, Episode 2: Out of Time Review (PlayStation 4)
It's never been easy to be a high school student, but in today's connected world, just existing day-to-day is like trying to navigate a minefield with someone twice your size on your shoulders. Though previous generations may have had similar growing pains, they never had to worry about the instant embarrassment, instant gratification or instant regret of the current crop. It's an incredibly turbulent time in a kid's life, and it's exacerbated by the idea that someone, somewhere is always waiting to make a worldwide example of you. But if you had the power to stop that from happening, how many lives could you save?
Spoilers for "Out of Time" follow.
When we last left off in Life is Strange, Max had finally been reunited with her longtime friend Chloe, only to have a vision of a terrible storm coming to wipe out the town of Arcadia Bay. The second episode, "Out of Time," picks up the following morning, with Max and Chloe arranging a meet to further discuss and test out Max's newfound abilities to twist time to her advantage. Where the first episode applied some very basic foundations for the world and the characters, "Out of Time" really lets us explore the friendship these two girls share, even though they've been apart for so long.
There's not a lot of time-bending action this time around, but there are moments where you'll use Max's powers to convince (and impress) Chloe. It's through these interactions that we see just how much Max really misses and needs her oldest best friend at such a crucial and scary time in her life. Chloe has her own reasons for keeping Max close, and while she doesn't tip her hand too much, the ever present and missing Rachel is always in the shadows. This is especially true when the duo visits a local scrapyard where Chloe and Rachel spent a lot of time together. It's the nuance and subtlety that really draws you in and makes these characters feel real.
That's not to say the scrapyard isn't a bit of a pain, though. You'll have to explore the location to uncover some bottles to use for target practice, which is a little mundane given what we know Max can do. It does provide a reason for you to thoroughly engage in discovering every nook and cranny of Chloe's secret place, but it could have been handled with a little less monotony. Still, the sequence does culminate in a rather frantic action sequence, which more than makes up for how little Max's time-bending is used outside of conversation.
Where "Out of Time" really stands out is in its handling of the very real dangers of bullying, depression and suicide. If you were wondering what the deal with Kate Marsh was in the first episode, "Out of Time" delivers answers at a breakneck pace. Apparently, Kate's been sullen and reclusive thanks in large part to a party with the Vortex Club (Arcadia's teen elite) that left her drugged and acting extremely out of character on video. It's since gone viral at the school, and the prim, proper and devout Kate Marsh has been harassed to no end by her peers and mistreated by the leadership at the school.
Based on not only the episodic nature of Life is Strange and its core focus on teenagers, it's easy to draw immediate parallels to televised dramas like The OC or Gossip Girl. Both of those shows dealt with similar themes as Life is Strange, and in some instances, very similar story beats as well. The truncated timeline of events for Kate's issues may seem insensitive to the issues at hand, and to an extent it's true that Dontnod glosses over some of the more serious aspects of Kate's depression. However, that doesn't make the situation ring any less true, or diminish the honesty of Kate's emotional state.
It's through Max's actions that we get to see all this unfold, and the choices we've made along the way impact our ability to help Kate out of the trouble she's in. What's more, you can absolutely fail to help based on whether or not you were actually a good enough friend to Kate. In our playthrough, we were fortunate to have seen the signs (such as they were) early on, and were able to make enough of a difference in the short term to keep Kate from making a terrible mistake. But our ability to spot the warning signs and see the situation for what it really was definitely had us questioning the fictional adults at Blackwell Academy.
The most frustrating issue with Kate's dire situation is how the supposedly intelligent and understanding faculty at Blackwell can operate so cluelessly. This early into Life is Strange's overall narrative, there may well be a reason behind the "look the other way" attitude we haven't learned about. However, watching the events unfold in real-time without any knowledge of what lies ahead made us want to reach into the screen and smack some sense and compassion into Blackwell's supervisors. And don't get us started on the Prescotts.
"Out of Time" may have been a bit extreme in its pacing and situations, but it also continued drawing us into Arcadia Bay's world and closer to the people who inhabit it. Even though Life is Strange's second episode didn't further very many existing storylines (that we could tell), it expanded on character and motivations for many of the role players we've been spending time with, and will likely see more of again in the future. We don't need all the answers to the lingering questions about Max's powers and the disappearances now, but at 40% of the way through Life is Strange's story, we hope Dontnod is able to capitalize more on the promise its shown so far in upcoming episodes.
This review was completed with a download code of Life is Strange, Episode 2: "Out of Time" provided by the publisher for PlayStation 4.