Fear of the inevitable.
Every time a new episode of Life is Strange is released, I have that same feeling of dread in the pit of my stomach. I want to play the latest chapter in the story of the Diaz brothers – as I need to know how the tale of pain and struggle is going to end – but I also secretly know deep down that each episode is little more than a slow build-up to whatever disaster is set to befall the pair at the end of this new instalment. “Wastelands” seems loaded with even more opportunity for suffering and seems to be packed with more foreshadowing than ever before. If you were ever tempted to think that there might be some good news coming the way of Sean and Daniel, the building sense of anxiety should quickly put paid to those ideas.
As you would expect, there are moments where you gladly have a chance to breathe, and things don’t seem so bad. Players met the back-packing pair of Cassidy and Finn in episode 2 and now that the pair have teamed up with this group of drifters, our heroes seem to have a somewhat stable social unit and even a “legitimate” source of income. With a group of friends and cash coming in, it shouldn’t be too long before the Diaz brothers get back on their feet and can make their way to Mexico as planned, right? Perhaps it is the fact that Daniel seems to be becoming ever more resistant to the rules and guidance of Sean, or the fact that you are working as weed farmers and sleeping in a camp surrounded by somewhat sketchy drug-users, but the sense that something will inevitably go wrong is never far from the front of your mind.
What makes this feeling worse is that every decision that you have made in previous episodes feels like they are coming together and the consequences are building up, waiting to explode. You know that in any case from the past where you had the bend the truth to get by, or steal something (no matter how small) just to survive, Daniel was watching and learning, and now he will act in kind, based on the mistakes that you yourself have made. It becomes less and less likely that Daniel will listen to Sean telling him to behave and play by the rules, when there have been so many moments when the older brother has had to play fast and loose with the law.
Life is Strange 2 episode 3 is probably the first video game to feature a cannabis bud-trimming mini-game (a very simplistic one at that), but aside from that small section of gameplay, events and conversations play out in very much the same way as every other Life is Strange game. There are several “big” choices in this instalment, or at least ones that are supposed to be impactful, but they are so clearly signposted or sudden, that they have very little emotional weight behind them. For instance, there are two romantic routes that can be taken in Wastelands if you so choose, and whilst one seems incredibly obvious and stereotypical, the other is so sudden that it would feel somewhat stupid to choose that route.
Come the action-packed and disastrous ending sequence, you do start to wonder which of your earlier actions and choices even precipitated the ending that you got. Seemingly minor choices throughout the story come together with a butterfly effect here, leading to a series of different outcomes, but just what causes each slight variation is hard to work out. Yes there have been plenty of different decisions and conversations along the way, but the issue with this season of Life if Strange is that few of the actions have an immediate impact, but many seemingly feed into an overall shaping of Daniel and his conscience. That is both an interesting factor – whereby you constantly need to be on your toes and aware of the example that you are setting – but also a difficult one, as it is never clear what the right and wrong choices will end up being. Perhaps that is more realistic though, as how many times in life do you get instant validation for a decision you have made?
Perhaps the long lead-times between episodes is also hurting the momentum of Life is Strange 2. The first season only ever saw gaps of one or two months between each entry, whereas three or four month gaps are present this time around. This definitely can’t help foster a successful story-telling process. Despite the big tension that is building throughout and the dramatic crescendo at its conclusion, everything sadly feels somewhat rushed. The choices you have made in the past have obviously begun to make Daniel resistant to your rules and left him looking for a way to rebel, but his shift from sweet little brother in “Roads” to angry drifter in “Wastelands” feels somewhat sudden and under-developed. It almost feels like it was fast-tracked simply to create the finale cliffhanger , which is intended to keep fans on their toes during the long wait for part four. One ends up feeling more annoyed by his petulance, than concerned for his well-being.