The moments when Life is Strange leaves me asking myself “how did things get so crazy?” are when it shines brightest, and Life is Strange 2 Episode 3 knows this well. It takes the story to worthwhile extremes in its final 20 minutes, but getting there means wading through a new cast of side characters I don’t feel connected to, overly conservative gameplay choices, inauthentic conflicts, and romances that lack any real spark.
The episode begins on a high point by taking things back to the Diaz house months before “the incident” that occurred in Episode 1. When On Melancholy Hill plays through Sean’s headphones as the camera pans across the simple comforts he lost it reminded me what Life is Strange as a series aims to accomplish: creating moments of thoughtfulness and appreciation for the mundane. But out in the California wilderness, I’m slightly detached from this new cast of characters and there’s no amount of alt-rock that can bring me back.
Unlike previous episodes of Life is Strange 2, the majority of Episode 3 takes place at a makeshift campground in the woods. Sean and Daniel somehow catch up to Cassidy and Finn, finding temporary safety among them and the other drifters.
I hoped that opting for a single setting for the majority of the episode would build a sense of home, creating more opportunities to get to know the area and characters. But, instead, keeping Sean and Daniel on the campground or at their new job – trimming buds at an illegal weed farm – only limited the range of activities I could participate in, stunting both gameplay and character development. Your new campmates double as coworkers, but despite all the time you spend with them none of it fosters a deeper connection.
They are the friends you only see around the office, not the ones you hang out with on the weekends. Everyone is there for their own reasons, which takes the focus off of the Diaz brothers but never redirects it anywhere meaningful.
Underneath the played out acoustic guitar and appropriated dreads, Cassidy and Finn go beyond their archetypes. They’re lovable characters who lookout for the Diaz brothers in their own ways. Despite Finn asking everyone around the campfire to “share their worst memory,” this group of train-hopping teens never became the cliches they seemed they might be on the surface.
Instead, that evening made each character feel a bit more real with Penny sharing why he wears a coin around his neck, Jacob discussing his faith (or lack thereof), and even Daniel reflecting on all the people he feels he let down. I loved soaking all of this in, watching Sean sketch the scene with an option to take a hit of the bong by the fire. Unfortunately, moments like this are sparse. Developer Dontnod does a good job giving me a sense of who these characters are, especially through overhead/optional conversations, but I’m still kept at arm’s length and that makes it difficult to care.
Building on episode 2, Cassidy becomes a potential love interest for Sean but the chemistry is never really there aside from some light flirting. Even their more intimate moments failed to give me chills – granted, I always opted for less flirty dialogue, but that’s all the more reason the relationship felt forced. Sean’s other potential kisser (which never appeared as an option for me) came across completely platonic in my playthrough.
Life is Strange 2 Episode 3 casts its net too wide when it comes to the new cast of characters and the gameplay lacked the light puzzle solving and charming moments the series is known for. Fortunately, it manages to deliver an emotional and shocking ending that lays the foundation for exciting episodes to come, this just wasn’t one of them. Much like the Diaz boys, I felt like I was just passing through.