FOR THE PURPOSES OF THIS REVIEW, WE WILL ASSUME PLAYERS HAVE FINISHED THE FIRST TWO EPISODES OF LIFE IS STRANGE 2. AS SUCH, EXPECT SPOILERS.
For anyone out there who thought that the last season of Game Of Thrones wasn’t up to snuff, understand this: The Life Is Strange audience probably knows exactly how you feel. No one has started an online petition demanding that DontNod re-make their hipster teen drama, but to say that this second season has been a bit of a disappointment is putting it mildly. On top of that, instead of a week, Life Is Strange 2’s audience has a four month wait between episodes, which after the saggy second instalment, some of them could be forgiven for giving up on this season altogether.
Episode 3 “Wastelands” is a slight improvement on its predecessor. Players will have many of the same complaints they’ve had in this season so far pertaining to game agency (and more on that in a minute) and Wastelands does plod along for quite a bit of its running time. But the episode’s final third act provides an engrossing pay off, tying together strands based on choices the player has made over a lengthy timeframe.
The closing moments may not be worth the price of admission, but they come damn close and may likely serve as a wedge between those who are committed and those who’ve decided to give up.
After escaping the attentions of the police in Episode 2, Wastelands sees the Diaz brothers – teenager Sean and his younger brother Daniel – wind up on a marijuana farm in the woods. The farm is run by a bald, bespectacled bloke named Merrill who seems easy going enough – the kids can pick buds for free room and board and some pay – but whose voice carries an edge that hints that his entire demeanour could turn on a dime at a moment’s notice.
For company, Sean and Daniel hang out with a group of hippie ne’er-do-wells, and this introduction of folks who are closer to Sean’s age puts Daniel’s nose out of joint. Given that Daniel has telekinetic powers that he has a habit of losing control over and resulting in violent consequences when he becomes too emotional, his bad mood starts to make the weed farm feel like a pressure cooker.
The first couple of episodes in this season centred on the bond between the Diaz brothers and how much more important it has become since the loss of their dad. Sean has been forced into a surrogate parent role, but he remains a kid, so at times his lack of patience with his younger brother is understandable, even if it feels a bit stupid and dangerous in light of past events.
Daniel, for his part, has allowed his brother to guide him over the last couple of episodes, but as Sean become more distracted by the kids at the weed farm, he starts to behave resentfully towards him. It’s an interesting dynamic and, even if it’s handled a little clunkily – Daniel can go from boisterous to being an utter brat in a heartbeat – it adds an extra layer of tension to makes the normally wobbly footing the Diaz brothers exist on.
It’s just a pity that the writing and the characters in Wastelands don’t really help out. Really, these kids are so vacuous that Daniel really shouldn’t have had to worry himself. While it’s refreshing to see a rather diverse group in terms of race and sex – and, as it happens, sexual orientation – the dialogue these characters spout and their sad sack backstories make them feel more like stoner stereotypes than real people.
On top of that, while Merrill and his henchman provide a menacing backdrop, they too feel more perfunctory than they should; rather than being complicated criminals, they’re cyphers that help move the plot along. The other main problem this episode has – that, as has been mentioned, Life Is Strange 2 players will be teeth-grindingly familiar with – is the fact that the player’s agency, for the most part, involves busy-work.
As in previous episodes, players spend an inordinate amount of time engaged in activities such as washing dishes, wandering around, gazing at stuff, picking weed buds (in a rather uninteresting mini-game), carrying water containers and the like. Oh, they can also examine Sean’s backpack contents and, yes, once again, they can draw a picture in Sean’s sketch book – a mechanic that seems only to exist because, well, that’s what moody teenagers do. It’s to Wasteland’s detriment that this agency dominates the first two-thirds of the episode… and then things get very interesting.
To begin with there’s a section in which players can choose to explore Sean’s sexuality. The young lad can choose to hook up a young lady named Cassidy or a bloke named Finn and before anyone imagines Wastelands is wandering into Mass Effect territory, DontNod handle all of this with aplomb. Much of the player’s interactions with either Finn or Cassidy is awkward, as it would be for any teen fumbling towards their first sexual encounter.
On top of that, Sean’s experience with Finn can go only so far, which fits since he’s identified as straight up until this point. All of this, incidentally is entirely optional; players don’t have to explore this avenue but whether they do or not – as well as the choices they make – have an impact on the episode’s last few turn of events.
And speaking of that passage of Wastelands, this final 20 minutes is where Life Is Strange 2 puts its best foot forward. What begins with an incredibly dumb idea suggested by Finn turns into a tragedy and in the lead up to the final moments players will be called on to make some knife-edge choices, the set ups of which hinge on not only the choices they made in Wastelands, but in a couple of earlier episodes too.
The final scene is pretty grisly and a post-credit sequence hints that things have gone decidedly downhill from there. It’s taken Life Is Strange 2 quite some time to reach this point, but finally there’s been some pay off for players who have stuck with it and the next episode looks like an intriguing prospect. Fingers crossed.
Last Updated: June 28, 2019