Logo for Byte Magazine at Ball State University

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

by Emily Worrell 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

Comments

Comments