Life Is Strange 2 has been slowly chugging along since September 2018, gradually eeking out an episode every four months. While a sluggish release pattern in the grand scheme of things, this pacing didn’t benefit the second episode, as not only did it take a while to come out, but it was also a boring, plodding tale. LIFE IS STRANGE 2 EPISODE 3, Wastelands, has finally been released, taking one-third of a year once again to grace downloadable platforms and even though it is slightly better than its sophomore installment, it still isn’t good enough to push things along.
After Sean and Daniel’s escape from the police in the previous episode, they end up in a drifter camp in the forests in Humboldt County, California. Geographically, it’s an inch closer toward their goal in Mexico, but they’re still financially pretty far away. However, they’ve acquired an under-the-table job from a tough overlord to slavishly cut marijuana leaves in exchange for free lodging and bit of pay. They have to cut bud before they can cut and run.
This camp hidden between the redwoods houses the game’s new characters, who are all free spirits with different backgrounds. Each person’s diversity fits the series’ progressive tone, even if most of them fall into played stoner stereotypes along the way. While not perfect, more games would benefit from looking to Life Is Strange 2 on the surface for its inclusion of people who aren’t typically seen in the medium.
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But the game doesn’t spend enough with most of them to garner anything more than them being passing acquaintances that you have to force yourself to talk to. The game attempts to get you to care about them in a scene around a campfire, but it’s a drawn out discussion that tries to use sob stories as a shortcut for characterization.
The Walking Dead: The Final Season has similar scenes where a band of misfits gather around and talk, but it builds up to that rather than trying to force it pretty early on. Clementine also has plenty of input to involve the player, which goes against Sean’s relative silence during these talks. It’s almost as if he’s also bored of their stories and an unintended audience cipher.
Awkward dialogue is the bigger issue once again engulfing this entire episode and is partly why their short screen time is unremarkable. These young adults are all tolerable at best and cringeworthy at worst, spouting cliche “jokes” or lame attempts at “kid lingo” as a means to humanize them. A character saying they’d rather get paid in “cash, ass, or grass” is a particular low point and emblematic of people trying way too hard to write “hip” adolescents. And it’s even worse this time given the weed-infused setting. There’s are a few decent moments where two or more people share worthy, intimate exchanges but they get buried underneath all the barrage of clumsy Life Is Strange™ moments.
Clever writing is almost necessary for crafting a likable cast and humor is a great way to get there. But all of their attempts at comedy fall flat and do more to push you away than endear you to them. Telltale usually managed these varying tones well and was why its character work carried the studio’s games for nearly its entire run. Dontnod is proficient at creating interesting characters from the start but fails to go beyond that, which is mainly due to the “fellow kids” script and occasional wooden delivery. If only the studio was as adept at writing as it was at creating a soundtrack as Wastelands has the strongest tunes of the three mostly thanks to the Gorillaz.
There’s an unshakable aura of awkwardness that permeates throughout the entire game in all of its crevices and the Diaz brothers are not exempt from that. Even though Sean’s teenage terminology is “outclassed” by his counterparts in this episode, he still is a fairly middle-of-the-road protagonist with little to love or hate. His attempts to take care of his brother are admirable but drastically swing in mood. One moment, he’s trying to train Daniel then he’s screaming at him the next. Daniel is similarly two-toned, as he’ll be a decent young kid one scene and a total unjustified brat in the next.
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All of this sounds realistic and it is. But that doesn’t make it a good base for almost every interaction. As was the case for the prior two episodes, having a healthy dose of uncharacteristic wit and charm would go a long way. Real teenagers aren’t typically fun to listen to and classic teen dramas don’t usually reflect how people in that age range speak. They need that extra bit of proofread and edited dialogue to be better than an unfiltered script of a teenager’s Twitter feed. Without it, it’s just a little too bland to carry an entire game. Night School is a developer that understands this incredibly well.
The optional sexual encounter symbolizes this approach and the follies of it. Sean can choose to punch his V-Card, which is fertile grounds for an encounter that can be relatable yet awkward. But it’s almost exclusively the latter as Sean doesn’t have a silver tongue to make the whole thing into a memorable goof that hits close to home in a comedic fashion like a scene from a Judd Apatow movie. Instead, it’s just weird with little else to take away other than Sean is growing up and that this big moment in his teen life is as forgettable for the player as it was for his unsatisfied romantic partner.
This long journey is supposed to be punctuated by memories like these but these two last episodes have done a poor job of telling their own compelling stories while also relating to the overarching plot. They both have been about warming up to a different group of characters for an incredibly brief amount of time and then the two boys argue about Daniel’s powers. Their dynamic has been escalating and hinting at an eventual boiling point (which this finale might be) but it’s still hardly changed in the in-game weeks between each episode.
It’s also just trying to do too much in an abbreviated amount of time. The game is trying to explore Daniel and Sean’s relationship in between the light contained narratives in each episode while also touching on the overall goal to get to Mexico. These episodes aren’t paced well enough nor are they as long as they should be to give these topics the appropriate amount of time and care.
And this is why it all falls on the characters but the game’s cast isn’t strong enough to bear that burden. Its tame story would be more acceptable if the many soft moments in between beats had less cringeworthy dialogue and more actual humor. The four-month waiting period is also only hurting the game as a whole since it takes so much momentum to get going only to stop suddenly when it gets up to speed. Whereas the first episode was a promising start and the second episode seemed like anomaly, this third episode appears to disprove that by setting a disappointing tone for the rest of the season. And we’ll have to wait yet another few months to see if that’s accurate or not.
GameRevolution reviewed Life Is Strange 2 Episode 3 on PS4 with a copy provided by the publisher.