The following continues our impressions of Life is Strange 2. You may be reading this and wondering why it's taken Shacknews so long to get around to the game's third episode. I will speak for myself, as the reviewer, on this. Due to illness and time constraints, I was unable to pick up on Life is Strange 2 until just recently. And prior to looking at episode four, it's probably a good idea to not leave a giant hole with episode three. With that said, here are some very belated impressions. The plan is still to have a final cumulative score for the season as a whole when it wraps up, but for now, let's catch up. And stay tuned for impressions on episode four, Faith, coming very soon.
After a long period away from Life is Strange 2, there really was a lot of time to think over some of its more unpleasant scenes. The overzealous cop at the start of the story, the uncomfortable level of racism that Sean encounters, and who could forget the dead puppy to kick off episode two? With all of that out of the way, I was pleasantly surprised to see that there were no such unpleasant moments in Wastelands, the game's third episode. In fact, Wastelands proves to be the game's strongest episode yet, thanks to the increased focus on the story's strongest element, that being the idea of family and brotherhood.
Unlike the first two episodes, Wastelands doesn't come across as Sean and Daniel on their own. Even in the second episode when they were staying with family, it still felt like it was Sean and Daniel versus the world. That's not the case in Wastelands.
Players meet an entire camp filled with wayward youth and they get to familiarize themselves with many of them. Dontnod does a tremendous job of providing character depth for many of these new faces. Whether it's Cassidy (Sean's potential love interest), Finn (Sean's other potential love interest), Hannah, Penny, Jacob, or the other campers, Dontnod goes to great efforts to make players care about these characters by providing backstory, pathos, or relatable conflict.
Wastelands also provides the best test for the player regarding the larger game-wide motif of being a good role model for Daniel. There are many opportunities to go the wrong way here and either turn Daniel against you or set him on the wrong path. But at the same time, when this happens, it doesn't feel like it's because of a "wrong" answer. There are several spots where Sean can do wrong by his brother, but they come with decisions that feel right in the moment. And in the grander scheme, isn't that humanity? Isn't part of the human experience rolling with something that feels right in the moment, even if it's not necessarily the right choice in the long haul?
In continuing with Life is Strange 2's greater theme of Daniel learning his power and wielding it responsibly, Dontnod also provides one of the best moments of the series and one of the cooler ones for those who have followed this franchise since its inception. Light spoiler ahead here, so feel free to skip ahead. Near the episode's climax, the other campers learn of Daniel's powers and it's Finn who decides to try and use Daniel's power for personal gain. This is more than a turn in the story where Sean must decide what's right for himself and his brother, but it's also a contrast to the first game and what happens when Chloe learns about Max's power for the first time. There are a lot of parallels here to Finn trying to abuse Daniel's power and Chloe looking to take advantage of Max, both in the alleged name of friendship. They're fascinating to compare in the bigger picture, but for this game, it also leads to the series' most intense final minutes to date.
On top of the fascinating and engaging narrative beats, Dontnod continues to develop some of the second game's interesting new ideas. Now only does time unfold while in mid-conversation, but there's even a sequence where players are put into the middle of a mini-game. Conversations will flow naturally in mid-game and players will even be encouraged to chime in or respond to certain characters while trying to get a high score. It's one of the coolest implementations of this idea so far.
While there aren't as many direct interactions between Sean and Daniel this time around, Wastelands is where I feel like the two are both closer and farther apart than ever. While the first two episodes have tested Sean as a parental figure, this third episode is the first time it truly felt like there were true consequences for his choices. You start to feel the pressure mount on Sean as he tries to be Daniel's only immediate family and also a normal teenager. You also sympathize with Daniel, who's already feeling alone and now has to deal with his brother gradually drifting away from him.
Wastelands didn't feel bogged down by the greater Life is Strange 2 story, which I still have reservations about. It felt like it world have been brilliant as a standalone story, but still feels strong as a midpoint for this larger narrative. Even with those reservations in mind, Life is Strange 2 continues to stand tall as a great tale of what it means to be family and what it means to be brothers.
These impressions are based on a PlayStation 4 code provided by the publisher. Life is Strange 2 is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and Nintendo Switch for $39.99 for all five episodes. The game is rated M. For more on Life is Strange 2, catch up on our impressions of Roads and Rules.