Keep the Wolves from the wall.
The last time we saw Sean and Daniel, things were looking much rosier than they have for most of the current season of Life is Strange. This was good for the characters in-game, but also felt good personally as I had begun to lose my motivation for completing their tale of woe. Too few positive notes had been peppered amongst the gloom so far, leaving it hard to see any potential positives coming from the actions of the player, who is trying to help them successfully evade the law and reach their motherland of Mexico. On top of that, for a five-part series, it has taken an ungodly amount of time to reach our conclusion. Over a year passed between episodes one and five – making it difficult for even the most ardent fans to keep their enthusiasm up – let alone remember every choice and encounter they have been involved in since the start.
Episode 4: Faith did successfully manage to give us a new direction however, both adding some rays of hope, but also kicking the action up a notch – successfully recpaturing some of the dynamism that had been sadly missing since season one and the story of Max and Chloe. That said, episode five quickly gets to work at slowing things right back down again to a ponderous pace. That isn’t to say that I want constant action and excitement, moreso that the writers firmly slammed the brakes down on the crescendo I felt was coming after the events of the last instalment. In fact more than half of this final episode reverts to the meditative style of play that Dontnod have proven good at in the past – but this feels like the wrong time to change gears so abruptly. I was fully geared up for a grand finale, but instead was delivered what felt somewhat more like mid-season filler.
Interactivity goes out of the window for large parts of the first few hours – conversation rules the day here – and whilst some new characters (and one returning from season one, which is a nice Easter Egg for longtime fans) are introduced, it feels too sudden and forced. We are supposed to feel sad that the brothers must leave their new friends at the commune where their mother resides, yet there is too little time to effectively let us get to know this new cast, let alone care about them. Interactions between them all feel exactly like time sinks – you know you are just killing time until Sean and Daniel get back on the road towards Mexico, and nothing compelling enough happens to make you want to relax and take your time to say your goodbyes.
After powering through this lull in the story, everything seems to feel like it has been squashed into too small a time slot. The Diaz brothers arrive at “the wall” which Donald Trump is so feverishly working on, and from that point onwards we are hurtling at break-neck speed to whatever conclusion your previous choices have led you to. DontNod have done a good job of walking the fine line in portraying the racial abuse and discrimination that the Diaz brothers have faced over the course of their story without straying into too much sentimentality, or being too painfully obvious. But the time constrictions seen in this episode really seem to hinder the effectiveness of their message, as they don’t afford this important section enough time or development to really hit home. After setting things up so well, his feels like a real missed opportunity, especially when the first section of this episode is so lacklustre.
How you have treated Daniel over the course of the season – along with one of two last-minute dialogue choices – helps to shape how Daniel looks at the world. This is the most successful idea behind the season finale – that if you taught Daniel to respect the law and other people, then he will be more likely to make sensible choices, or if he saw Sean often flaunt the law and only care about himself, then the final actions of Daniel will also be very much in that vein. The ways in which these different endings manifest themselves end up being disappointing though, and they don’t necessarily make sense from a story development point of view. Some reactions seem far too extreme, with one particularly violent conclusion being possible even if you only made a few “bad” choices along the way. What you believe your overall choices represented – i.e. a “good” or “bad” Daniel – aren’t borne out in a very satisfying way.
This second season of Life is Strange certianly wasn’t all bad by any means – the conclusion purely lacked the impact it should have had, and the time it needed. Technically the game looks leaps and bounds better than its first season, and techinical performance is also much more smooth than before. The original score and soundtrack selection does a fantastic job of heightening the emotion in both the moments of elation and despair – an area that was also a particualrly strong point throughout the journey of Max and Chloe. There have probably been even more great moments in this second season than there were in the first – but a series of great moments and dramatic events doesn’t always tie together into a cohesive whole.
The Police incident in episode one, the gas station escape in episode two and the burning church in episode four are just a few of the really memorable events from the season – which are both successful videogame moments, but also handled in a sensistive way when dealing with some politically difficult issues. Dontnod have become adept at speaking for the younger generation and addressing some of the issues most important to this generation with care and delicacy where needed – without watering them down. But where season two falls down is a series of pacing issues in the writing, only exacerbated by the horribly long wait times between the release of each episode. Maybe the first game set expectations too high, but Dontnod have clearly tried hard to go in a different direction second time around, and despite some rough edges and missed targets, it is an admirable effort.