This is why we can’t have nice things…
“Maybe you should stop playing now”, my wife says solemnly. I am confused by this, as I am only around halfway through episode two of the second season of Life Is Strange. When I ask her why she replies “Because the two brothers are happy, if you stop now, you can pretend there was a happy ending!”. This short exchange sums up the series accurately and rather succinctly. Whenever things are going well, you are always nervously waiting for disaster to strike. Previous episodes have preconditioned players to expect the worst and yet, when playing, I still remained hopeful that somehow things could work out because these kids really could do with a win.
You really care about what happens to the boys. This isn’t an action game where you are constantly running, jumping or killing enemies, so investment into the tale that is being told is key. That being said, rather than just being like a flat track race, the story is more of a roller coaster – switching between slow moments of reflection and dramatic scenes involving some tough choices and their inevitable consequences. In the first two episodes of this second season, Dontnod have shown that they have a firm grip on our heartstrings, pulling just enough to make us need to find out what happens next, even if the journey there is often pretty harrowing.
I will tread carefully in order to avoid spoilers, but we pick up with the two Brothers unsure what move to make next, following the upheaval of episode one. They are on the road, on the run, and need somewhere to lay low after Daniel’s supernatural powers manifested at the end of that initial chapter. Daniel is trying to work out why this is happening to him, and Sean is doing the best he can to help him to develop his powers – whilst also keeping a roof over their heads and food in their bellies. We get to see his powers in action more, but also how his mental state affects his control over them. It is a wise choice to explore a different power for this second season, rather than risk simply re-hashing the time-turning mechanics from the story of Max and Chloe, however good they were.
The ability to rewind and re-attempt sections of the story was the definite hook for season one and made it a different gameplay experience – but the power is used in a very different way in season two. In this case, rather than playing as the person who is suddenly having to deal with the shock and confusion of possessing special powers, you now take on the role of a teenager trying to protect his kid brother. Through your actions, you can either encourage or discourage how often Daniel busts out his new tricks – I found myself often conflicted between trying to protect and guide Daniel, or being a well-liked brother and friend to him. You can’t always keep him happy, but have a responsibility to keep him safe.
Another clever idea Dontnod attempted was to offer up the free chapter “The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit” earlier in 2018, in preparation for the full second season. This was a great appetiser that not only maintained the emotional style of the franchise, but quietly set up several threads that would tie-in nicely with the story of season two. We got our first glimpse of Daniel and Sean in that taster, and we get to see where things pick back up in “Rules”. How you choose to deal with the impact that Daniel’s powers can have on the lives of others – most prominently with Chris, the star of Captain Spirit – is one of the most emotionally difficult aspects of this episode.
In fact, the appearance of Chris calls into question your own priorities: will you protect Daniel no matter the costs, or do you what you know is right, despite the potential risk that entails. This was the most difficult decision to make in the episode and whereas many of the other choices in the series have on the surface felt somewhat inconsequential, or at times not appeared to make a big amount of difference, there are both far reaching ethical questions raised as well as some potentially devastating outcomes. This felt like the first really big decision to make in season two, and it will be interesting to see how it will effect the story as it progresses.