Constants and variables. No, this is not the review for Bioshock Infinite: Burial at Sea but rather a peek behind development process of Life is Strange: Episode 2 - Out of Time from Dontnod Entertainment. We've already taken a look at the first episode of this gem of an episodic coming-of-age tale, but suffice to say the adversity this studio had to face to even bring a title like this to market is amazing.
Now, those constants for the series: Bad lip sync, jittery animations, awkward UI, a protagonist who is way too teenage-ey, epic lightning, Chromatic Aberration and shallow Depth of Field designed specifically to relay that photographic style the game is all about. The variables: a revamped dialogue style, revamped voice acting, much heavier decisions to take and of course, the plot really taking things up a notch..
Max is back and she is conscious, as ever, of being the protagonist of the game. This sometimes makes her "alone time" and monologues way too self-centered but maybe that's the precise point. I wasn't thinking about anything other than myself when I was a teenager, or was busy relating others' struggles to mine.
The second episode, Out of Time, begins on a black screen with another of the now-signature Life is Strange indie rock songs swamping your speakers. Soon your relaxing session is broken with the annoying sound of an alarm blaring somewhere as you get back into Max's turbulent life. It's a seemingly normal day, doing favours for your friends and eavesdropping on vicious conversations about said friends. But, before too long things quickly go from bad to worse for Max. Rekindled friendships, new ones being made, and life itself is what this episode is all about, but it's the way Dontnod have gone about which is pretty amazing.
Imagine you are a budding development studio, fresh off the middling success of a moderately good combat title, looking for funding to develop a dream project intent on breaking the story telling mold. What do you do when any funding you're able to procure requires you to massively alter your vision for the game? Well, if you're Dontnod you take no such money and find a producer that supports your vision, Square Enix. Although Dontnod didnt have a massive budget to play around with, they have so maximised the potential of wht they have. They had to make do with jittery animation design and practically no lip sync but they focused on what was important - the feeling a player might get from it. They invested in good voice actors and striking visual effects, all the while not comprising on the quality they have achieved. My respects go to them.
The game is an acoustic guitar in the world of turn tables, mixing softwares and electronic instruments. It presents no challenge but only THE challenge, living with your decisions. Max's ability to rewind time changes the way you play this game immensely. Similar story-driven cinematic and point and click games from developers like Telltale Games and Quantic Dreams fail to instill the amount of weight that your decisions have during the story that Life is Strange does. Decisions from Episode 1 are already back to bite you in the tush and they will massively affect how Max's story turns out, particularly in a couple of big ways. Although Max's powers are cool, they come with limitations. The parts in Out of Time where you have to think quick and work without the magic of rewinding time are frankly very tense, especially since your decisions will change your's and a whole lot of other peoples' lives irreversibly. Will you live in the moment and think about improving your life right now? Or will you make harsher decisions that will pay out later when you most need them? It's all up to you. No, really.
With an entry price of $5 the developers humbly invite you to take a dive into their dream and judge it worthy of your time. The sales numbers and, surprisingly, the strong support from the Steam community speak for themselves. This game will not appeal to a massive portion of the gamer population, as it shouldn't have to, but to those who do like it, it's the perfect game. Dontnod know their story storytelling, and here's hoping it's only going to get better from here on out.