When the credits rolled at the end of Life Is Strange 2’s first episode, ‘Roads’, players were left with threads hanging concerning the fate of the Diaz brothers. They had food and supplies left for them by a kindly stranger who’d brought them down the coast, but both were still fugitives and Sean’s plan to get his little brother Daniel to safety seemed nebulous at best.
On top of that, players were in no doubt about the source of the mysterious power that had ended the first instalment’s opening act with a burst of explosive chaos. Not only was Daniel in a bad place emotionally after learning of the death of his father, it turned out that he has telekinesis and that the more angry and emotional he becomes, the more destructive that power is and the less control he has over it.
Sean, by all accounts, has a bigger job than he’d reckoned with when he decided to take care of his younger brother.
Life Is Strange 2: Episode 2, Rules, picks up a few weeks after the last episode. It’s now the middle of winter as Sean and Daniel are camping out in snow covered woodlands with the puppy Daniel picked up in Episode 1, Mushroom. The pair are trying to work out a way to control Daniel’s power, although the latter is getting more comfortable with using it (in some instances you could say he’s more than a little cocky).
Sean has a lot on his plate, not the least of which is the fact that if the player decided to be brutally pragmatic about the Diaz boys’ plight in the first episode and steal items rather than pay for them, Daniel has picked up a couple of moral wrinkles on top of everything else. He observes everything the player does and Sean is basically his moral compass.
That’s a hell of a lot of responsibility to place on a kid’s shoulders and it doesn’t help that with Daniel’s confidence growing that it’s not too long before he’s questioning his older brother’s rules concerning it (that is, don’t show off and keep the power a secret). Hell, not even Mushroom listens to Sean when he tries to lay down the law.
As one would expect, hanging out in the woods in the dead of winter with very little warmth and dwindling food supplies isn’t the best situation for a kid of Daniel’s age, and it’s not long before he becomes ill and Sean is forced to make a plan. He decides to take his brother and Mushroom to Beaver Creek, the home of the boys’ maternal grandparents. Once they’re there, they’re introduced to a new selection of characters, including (aside from the grandparents) a comic-book-obsessed kid called Chris, his alcoholic father and two hitchhikers called Finn and Cassidy.
As is the case with all of the entries in this series, the story is the strongest feature in Rules. Barring one emotional beat that feels incredibly manipulative (and players can probably guess which member of the Diaz travelling party it involves), the developments in ‘Rules’ focus on the changing dynamic between Sean and Daniel, punctuating the narrative here and there with moments packed with tension.
There is less of the political and social commentary that Roads put front and centre, but given that this entry feels both in its execution and pay-off as something of a scene-setter for Episode 3, that’s no bad thing. While players won’t experience anything approaching the emotional drainage of the first instalment, there are one or two beats here that hit home succinctly.
The real problem with Rules (and to a degree Roads) is that, for the most part, it’s a chore to play. Between watching cutscenes, players have to make dialogue and action choices which don’t appear to have the same impact that they did in Episode 1 on Daniel – or any other character for that matter.
The lion’s share of the player’s time is taken up by piloting Sean around numerous environments, picking up items and looking at stuff which trigger internal monologues about whatever he’s interacting with. There are collectibles to gather, but it’s not clear whether or not there’s any plot-based benefit for doing so and while there are a couple of puzzles, they aren’t really challenging or engaging. Beyond that, Sean can draw pictures, but this function just seems to have been included because… well, that’s what moody teens do?
To be frank, a lot of these features feel like they were included because the developers felt they had to include them. Without them, Rules would have less gaming engagement than TellTale’s Walking Dead series. What’s missing here is agency. There’s no mechanic or feature the player can make use of that creates the impression they’re having a genuine impact on the proceedings. Sean is swept along in Daniel’s wake and even the game’s choice mechanic feels perfunctory rather than poignant.
On top of that, the pacing in ‘Rules’ is even slower than in Roads. There’s a set-up and a pay-off to the episode, but thanks to the monotonous experience of playing the game, it feels like it takes a small age to get there.
That having been said, players who picked up a season pass for Life Is Strange: Episode 2 will likely forgive its transgressions. As has been mentioned, the story is intriguing and even with its slow pacing, Rules ends with a scene that sets an enticing stage for the next episode. It’s those who took a flyer on Roads that may decide that on the basis of Rules that their time may be better invested elsewhere – and given how monotonous playing through this segment is, they’d be forgiven for that.
Still, personally speaking, I’m interested to see where Life is Strange 2 goes next. After all, if I can forgive a decent TV show for the odd bum episode, I can forgive Life Is Strange Episode 2 as well… as long as it doesn’t make a habit of it.
Last Updated: March 18, 2019