Life is Strange 2 continues being a small but intimately engrossing delight with the release of each episode. Episode 1 kicks off a road trip narrative where Sean and Daniel Diaz have no idea who to trust or even where their final destination will be. Episode 2 fleshes out the brothers’ extended family with an extended stay at their grandparents’ place, and manages to introduce the all too sad and humanizing trait of fallibility in the form of a touchy history with their biological mother and in the grandparents’ vain attempts to keep such harmful secrets hidden. Even those who share your blood can let you down. And after that particular episode’s climax left the brothers on the run yet again, Episode 3 opens up with our leads in the most alien and distant idea of a traditional home, family unit, or even normal community of people… and manages to make it welcoming.
A traveling hippy camp in the middle of a forest in California, the residents of which are working at an illegal pot farm. No, for real, that’s where the majority of this episode takes place. And if it wasn’t for the twee indie roadtrip movie atmosphere the series set for itself, it’s a scenario that could have gone very wrong very fast.
Episode 3 is a case of Life is Strange 2 sticking to its strengths. Spending time in a new situation with unusual characters, each one with intriguing backstories and motivations, and deciding whether or not to to use (or abuse) Daniel’s telekinetic powers for personal gain. Although this time around, the big major choices are minimal, there are maybe two tops that are heavily emphasized as big deals throughout the entire three hours of playtime.
This is where the episode is both at its best and at its worst. Since the focus is more on character dynamics, it does help that every member of the camp is instantly likeable and have their own distinct traits and flaws such as a Swedish couple with wanderlust or a disillusioned young man who has lost his faith in Christianity. Special mention has to go to the characters of Cassidy and Finn, who manage to bring some believable humanity to otherwise bland caricatures. Yes, they both have visual designs steeped in stereotype – dreadlocks, unevenly cut died hair, a thing for drugs and guitar music, etc. – but take some time to know them and there’s surprisingly a lot to empathize with. And that’s before the option for a potential romance with either of them becomes available.
On the other hand however, it also means that the episode has to focus more on making your past choices mean something through your interactions with Daniel, which leads to the weakest part. Speaking only personally for my playthrough, I mostly tried to keep Daniel’s moral compass pretty straightforward. Don’t use your power unless it’s life or death, don’t steal, don’t pull pranks, lay low, much like a classic superhero story. And to the credit of Life is Strange 2, there is a sense that some of these lessons are being taken to heart while also remembering that Daniel is just a kid. So yes he’ll listen to you, but he also won’t hesitate to casually cheat at chess if he can get away with it. But since a lot of Episode 3 is on rails, with most of the screentime given to the motley crew of the camp, there is a sense of artificial conflict between the brothers that just feels off. There’s a particular scene where Daniel gets mad that Sean is spending too much time with his new friends, which happens after the one and only extended sequence with the brothers together being able to bond, and the whole thing is peppered with these bits of dialogue like the game was expecting me to be negligent or cruel to Daniel… when I wasn’t. As believable as a duo as these two have been, this was the first instance of my immersion being broken. Not shattered, just noticeably cracked.
Thankfully, the finale does manage to bring things together in a really intense standoff sequence that had me holding my breath. And the tease for the next episode seems to be leaning into some pretty dark territory. A tease that I hope the developers can deliver upon release.
In conclusion, Life is Strange 2: Episode 3 feels like a pretty alright middle chapter of an otherwise promising season. The highs are engaging, the lows can be very distracting, and results in something strangely absorbing if you’re in the mood for something more low-key and character-centric.