Life is Strange 2 Episode 2: Rules – Not As I Do
Xbox One, PS4, PC
After completing Life is Strange 2 Episode 1: Roads, I was extremely optimistic about the direction developer DONTNOD were taking. Both Sean and Daniel Diaz had grown on me as characters and their interactions, most notably the influence Sean can exert over Daniel as his older brother, seemed to be the core of the experience. While Episode 2: Rules expands on this thread, it is a leaner outing than its predecessor and suffers from a few issues common to the episodic adventure genre.
Before going any further, I think it important to point out that Rules is tied heavily into the events of prequel episode The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit and will be a much weaker experience without having played it. If time permits, I’d go so far as to recommend replaying it prior to beginning Rules for maximum impact – not only does it flesh out characters this episode doesn’t explore in detail, it increases the emotional weight of a number of scenes and decisions.
Rules lives up to its namesake, taking place shortly after the conclusion of Roads with Sean and Daniel taking refuge in an abandoned cabin hidden amongst snow-blanketed woods. Sean, trying to impose some semblance of order on their chaotic lives as well as keep his younger brother safe, works to instil in Daniel a set of rules to govern the use of his budding telekinetic ability. This goal weaves its way throughout the episode and further drives home DONTNOD’s approach to Daniel’s development as he is shaped by the dialogue and actions of the player through Sean. It’s not good enough to tell Daniel not to use his powers irresponsibly whilst also employing them for the sake of convenience, as he will soon realise Sean is not exactly a moral compass to be followed and instead lives by the mantra “Do as I say, not as I do”. I had to think carefully about some decisions and even refrain from certain actions which would have come across as hypocritical. In my estimation, this is still the strongest element of Life is Strange 2 and I suspect DONTNOD is playing a long game with some of the choices made in these earlier episodes. The licensed soundtrack in Rules consists of only three tracks but as with previous Life is Strange entries they are used to great effect, most notably the return of Sufjan Steven’s magnificent ‘Death With Dignity’ which featured in Captain Spirit and ‘I Found A Way’ by First Aid Kit, a track that fits Rules like a glove. If DONTNOD and Square Enix want me to pony up for a physical Life is Strange 2 release, all they need do is include the soundtrack.
While I’m still very excited to see where Episode 3 will take Sean and Daniel, it is unfortunate that upon reflection Rules disappointed me in a few areas compared to Roads. Firstly, aside from a few key beats the majority of Rules is slower paced and consequently lowers the dramatic stakes considerably. I couldn’t shake the impression that parts of this episode were little more than table setting for events further down the track. I can see why some would regard that as a redundant statement given the nature of the episodic adventure genre, but the best entries are capable of telling a solid, self-contained story whilst also building on events of the past and laying the foundation for the future; Rules spends a bit too much time wrapping up loose threads and looking forward at the expense of the present.
Compounding this are a number of situations in which I felt railroaded into an action that wasn’t congruent with kind of character I was moulding Sean into but rather served the story DONTNOD want to tell. One later forced sequence in particular snowballed in ways I wasn’t happy with and highlighted another small issue that detracted from my overall experience; the inconsistent tone between some dialogue interactions. I was initially going to blame a drop in the quality of execution by the voice cast for this issue, but experience tells me that more dev time and communication between various elements of the production team could have dealt with these issues. I suspect the need to meet deadlines may have been the crucial factor here as I also experienced a number of minor graphical and sound glitches that hadn’t plagued me previously including invisible, floating and frozen characters.
Despite these few misgivings, Rules is not a bad game but instead lies in the shadow of a cracker opening episode in Roads that it struggles to live up to. I think the importance of Rules will rear its head in later episodes as decisions begin to compound further and players are made to face the consequences of their choices in unexpected ways. I just hope we aren’t left hanging for another four months before the next chapter in the Diaz brothers’ story.