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Despite an emotionally powerful ending, ‘Life is Strange 2: Episode 5’ still underwhelms

<p>Image from Steam</p>

Image from Steam

We’ve finally arrived at the day we all knew would come: It’s time to  say goodbye to Sean and Daniel, our favorite road-trip-brother-outlaws.  After loving Episode 4,  I was excited, yet apprehensive to play the final installment, as I had  faith that the developers could do what they had done before—I just  wasn’t sure if they would. In a way, the game proved both of these  senses right; while there were some elements in the final episode that  were frankly mediocre at best, the ending managed to—more or less—make  up for them by packing an emotional punch that left me sobbing almost an  hour after finishing the game. 

Underwhelming, slow start

Image from Steam

Unfortunately (but not surprisingly), a lot of the final episode  consisted of slow, boring gameplay that was just walking from cutscene  to cutscene. One may argue that this is to be expected from Life is Strange games; their power comes from story rather than gameplay. I certainly agree—part of what makes Life is Strange  unique and interesting is that they are essentially interactive stories  for the player to go through, and the player sacrifices more complex  gameplay for greater focus on the emotional power of the story being  told. However, in the first two-thirds of this episode, a lot of the  story just isn’t compelling enough or even present enough to hold the  player’s attention and seem worth the trade-off. You walk around looking  at things and performing fetch quests and are only rewarded with  cutscenes of stilted dialogue that is neither interesting nor  informative. 

With many of these cutscenes, it feels like random characters are  monologuing at you rather than having a conversation with you, which  completely disrupts the naturalistic style of characterization and  dialogue that Life is Strange is known for. Instead of having  Sean talk to the random, newly-introduced characters that the player has  not come to know and care about, it would’ve been much more effective  to use this time to get back to the central relationship of the  narrative and show some interaction between Daniel and Sean. Honestly,  the very existence of new characters in this section is confusing; it  seems strange and impractical to introduce characters in the final hours  of the game, when the story is nearly over.

However, there were a few nice surprises in the first part of the episode. For example, Brody’s blog entry  that you have the option to read in Karen’s camper the first time you  walk around Away nearly brought me to tears, and the reintroduction of a  certain character from the original Life is Strange was  emotionally powerful as well. Additionally, the game did a decent job in  this episode of capturing the beauty of the desert. While there were  moments where the scenery didn’t quite work, in the times where it did  work, it REALLY worked; however, it isn’t until the climax of the  episode that things really get going.

Emotional ending packs a punch

Image from Steam

The climax of the episode happens when Sean and Daniel finally reach  the border, which has been their goal since episode one. From this point  on, the story really took off and kept a fast pace all the way to the  very end. Unfortunately, in this section, the writers started to slip  into the habit from previous episodes of hitting themes a little too “on  the nose,” instead of leaving them for the player to discern,  particularly with the inclusion of two vigilantes who go to dangerous  lengths to “protect their country.” 

However, the ultimate redeeming factor for the problems in the first  part of this episode was the ending. The developers stayed with the  format from the other Life is Strange games, where the game ends  with one final choice that ultimately decides the way your story  concludes. The choice for this game was extremely morally ambiguous,  which made it incredibly difficult (as the final choice is supposed to  be). Making the choice and seeing what it resulted in felt like an  emotional punch to the gut; I literally cannot remember the last time I  sobbed that hard over a piece of media. It was heart-wrenching,  powerful, and essentially everything a final choice in a Life is Strange game should be.

End of an era

Image from Steam

Seeing as this is the final episode of this game, it seemed only  fitting to talk a bit about the game as a whole. While on the whole, I  really did enjoy Life is Strange 2, but the biggest problem I  noticed was that it generally lacked direction. There wasn’t a clear  story with a clear objective being told—it kind of wandered all over the  place until the player was no longer clear on what they were trying to  accomplish. It was also quite frustrating that the entire basis of the  game was essentially taking a bad choice that Sean made—which the player  had no choice in—and making that choice worse. It just felt strange  that in a choice-based game, one of the most important choices of the  story was made for you.

But of course, the reason that I stayed with it was because not only do I love Life is Strange,  but I truly cared about Sean and Daniel. The developers did a great job  making them likeable, even in their worst moments and giving them a  realistic sibling relationship that was a treat to follow. I just wish  that they would have stuck more with that relationship rather than  introducing a new set of characters into the story every single episode.  Hopefully, the developers at DONTNOD will learn from the issues of Life is Strange 2  and stick more closely to a strong through line and a few really rich  character relationships, rather than a bunch of fleeting ones.  Nevertheless, I am happy to have shared this journey with Sean and  Daniel.

Images: Steam

Featured Image: Steam

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