The moments when Life is Strange leaves me asking myself “how did things get so crazy?” are when it shines brightest, and Life is Strange 2 Episode 3 knows this well. It takes the story to worthwhile extremes in its final 20 minutes, but getting there means wading through a new cast of side characters I don’t feel connected to, overly conservative gameplay choices, inauthentic conflicts, and romances that lack any real spark.
The episode begins on a high point by taking things back to the Diaz house months before “the incident” that occurred in Episode 1. When On Melancholy Hill plays through Sean’s headphones as the camera pans across the simple comforts he lost it reminded me what Life is Strange as a series aims to accomplish: creating moments of thoughtfulness and appreciation for the mundane. But out in the California wilderness, I’m slightly detached from this new cast of characters and there’s no amount of alt-rock that can bring me back.
Unlike previous episodes of Life is Strange 2, the majority of Episode 3 takes place at a makeshift campground in the woods. Sean and Daniel somehow catch up to Cassidy and Finn, finding temporary safety among them and the other drifters.
I hoped that opting for a single setting for the majority of the episode would build a sense of home, creating more opportunities to get to know the area and characters. But, instead, keeping Sean and Daniel on the campground or at their new job – trimming buds at an illegal weed farm – only limited the range of activities I could participate in, stunting both gameplay and character development. Your new campmates double as coworkers, but despite all the time you spend with them none of it fosters a deeper connection.
Episode 3 takes the focus off of the Diaz brothers but never redirects it anywhere meaningful.
They are the friends you only see around the office, not the ones you hang out with on the weekends. Everyone is there for their own reasons, which takes the focus off of the Diaz brothers but never redirects it anywhere meaningful.
Underneath the played out acoustic guitar and appropriated dreads, Cassidy and Finn go beyond their archetypes. They’re lovable characters who lookout for the Diaz brothers in their own ways. Despite Finn asking everyone around the campfire to “share their worst memory,” this group of train-hopping teens never became the cliches they seemed they might be on the surface.
Instead, that evening made each character feel a bit more real with Penny sharing why he wears a coin around his neck, Jacob discussing his faith (or lack thereof), and even Daniel reflecting on all the people he feels he let down. I loved soaking all of this in, watching Sean sketch the scene with an option to take a hit of the bong by the fire. Unfortunately, moments like this are sparse. Developer Dontnod does a good job giving me a sense of who these characters are, especially through overhead/optional conversations, but I’m still kept at arm’s length and that makes it difficult to care.
Building on episode 2, Cassidy becomes a potential love interest for Sean but the chemistry is never really there aside from some light flirting. Even their more intimate moments failed to give me chills – granted, I always opted for less flirty dialogue, but that’s all the more reason the relationship felt forced. Sean’s other potential kisser (which never appeared as an option for me) came across completely platonic in my playthrough.
Daniel, on the other hand, spends the episode yearning to be seen as an adult while feeling ignored and unwanted by his big brother in favor of friends his age. The nuances here aren’t handled well, making Daniel come off as irrational and overly aggressive.
Daniel’s take on friendship vs. family is frustratingly contradictory: in Episode 2 he’s risking it all to hang out with Chris, but now he’s lashing out over Sean’s new friendships. It’s made worse in Episode 3 when Sean approaches Daniel at a party and says he’s happy hanging out on his own with the others from camp, but a few scenes later he’s mad that Sean left.
Daniel’s take on friendship vs. family is frustratingly contradictory.
His reactions aren’t in line with how I played the vast majority of the episode, making Daniel’s anger feel unfounded. Sure, he’s “just a kid” but most of his outbursts before Episode 3 have been warranted. There weren’t any times where Sean directly blew Daniel off in my playthrough so the friction between the two brothers feels at odds with itself.
Work itself is… well, work. While the section is only a few minutes long, I had to trim buds and clean my scissors in the form of quick time events. It’s fitting that this boring activity intentionally mirrors the boring work the group complains about as you’re doing it, but it’s also just a sloppy experience to play through when you can only clean your scissors by interrupting your cutting. Additionally, timed dialogue options will pop-up on the screen. These always feel more realistic than standard choices, but in a game where decisions can matter so much it felt uncomfortably rushed. It was difficult to choose what to say (or not to say) while also trying to press LT and RT at the right time, which is sort of the opposite of what it’s like to talk during while doing menial, mindless work. The forced multitasking is supposed to make me feel like Sean but all I was left with was mild frustration.
With so many people around Daniel’s powers take a backseat, but there are still moments where I was forced to choose between using them or risking harm to others. It’s a moral quandary that I struggle with each time but, three episodes in, it’s becoming a bit tired. Other than that, there’s another training session between Sean and Daniel involving picking objects for target practice and other drills that don’t offer anything new to the series.
It isn’t until the final act of Episode 3 that it becomes what I know and love from the series: finding and using objects as a way of problem-solving, then rushing to a dangerous scene only to make choices that could literally be life and death. I let out an audible gasp when I watched my choices play out in gut-wrenching ways. While the episode itself was lackluster, its catastrophic cliffhanger left me wanting more of the Diaz brothers’ journey.