It’s been a long, slow wait between episodes of Life Is Strange 2, and that is a real problem for the series. Four months for the second episode, three and a half for the third, the series’ fourth and fifth episodes won’t arrive until August and December, stretching this game over more than a year. While Dontnod and developers in general should be able to take the time they need to make their games, this is pushing the episodic storytelling form to its limits.
Note: There will be certain spoilers for Life Is Strange 2 after this point, but I’ve tried to keep them pretty light.
The episode opens with a cute recap of the story, told with our two protagonists depicted as wolf cubs forced to strike out alone. It’s a good reminder of the arcs of the first two episodes, but as the episode starts proper, I genuinely have to think what the names of the two brothers are. Was it David? Oh, Diaz was their surname… Daniel? Which one was Daniel?
The same is true of all the other characters. Having been forced on the run from the small town safety of episode 2, Sean and Daniel have found themselves in another pocket of relative safety, camping out among the towering redwood forests of California. As Sean wakes up, I wonder if they’re on their own still, I wonder if it’s a dog or a bear that’s licking his feet, if they’re living in a tent city of homeless people as the camera pulls out of their tent and you see more tents in the background.
It turns out that they’ve linked up with those wandering hippies that you met before. Again, I can’t remember their names, but if I struggled with the two leads, it’s no surprise that someone Sean chatted to for all of 2 minutes four months ago also escapes my memory. It’s bad enough trying to remember people’s names for more than five minutes in real life!
It’s more than just those two – Finn and Cassidy, I eventually figure out – and there’s actually a nice communal feel to the group. Sean has to help chip in with chores, such as refilling the coffee machine after drinking the last cup, lugging heavy tanks of water over to the kitchen and shower, and so on. Sitting down to chat, it’s nice.
But where’s Daniel? The running theme through the series is Sean’s relationship with his younger brother as he tries to take on the responsibility of raising him responsibly and teaching him to be responsible with his awesome telekinetic powers. The problem is that he’s feeling that Sean is ditching him in favour of hanging out with the others in the group, leaving him behind. It’s a typical 9-year-old jealousy, but tied to awesome powers and the stress of Sean constantly forcing him to try and keep them secret. There’s a great feeling of simply not being in control of Sean, not having a handle on his desires and actions, and the fear of the trouble that he can cause as you decide whether to go easy on him or scold him for being too childish.
Of course, living off the grid like this has its own costs. It was never going to be a total paradise and the entire group are in fact living at the pleasure of the local weed grower. With Sean and Daniel needing as much cash as possible to get down to Mexico and escape the manhunt for them, it makes a good deal of sense, and it throws another interesting relationship and dynamic into the mix. Of course Daniel doesn’t truly understand the situation, he’s just a petulant little kid, but for you and Sean it’s crystal clear the potential danger they’re in when there’s barely disguised firearms and a demonstrable power dynamic. Sean’s subservient nature is absolutely on point here.
I can’t help but feel that, alongside the long breaks between episodes, the languid pacing of Dontnod’s story also does it few favours when drawing this story out over fifteen months. In this episode it ranges from the introspective moments of simply soaking in the scenery to some licensed music, to sitting round the campfire chatting, and even a long and drawn out drug prepping minigame. There just wasn’t enough going on to really grip me this time, especially as I could see the plot beat of Daniel’s rebellious streak coming a mile off. Add on top of that the episode’s preachiness about climate change, littering, and more, and I was constantly tempted to reach for my phone and check Twitter while waiting for the next time I could interact with the game.
Even so, this episode marks a clear turning point for the boys. Instead of going from one safe harbour to another on their journey down to Mexico, there’s a clear shift to simply being on the run once more. The dynamic between Daniel and Sean will be clear to see once more, especially as Daniel’s powers grow stronger and stronger. I just have to hope that I can still remember their names at the end of August.