Life is Strange 2’s third episode feels like fighting a tidal wave. Your attempts to “deal” with Daniel start to fail and you realise that your telekinetic little brother is his own person, an individual separate from yourself as the player.
After raising him for two episodes, this almost feels unfair in a medium where control is expected but it falls firmly in line with the season so far. You can guide Daniel along but Episode 3 makes it clear that he won’t be “controlled” in the way you expect.
Last time on Life is Strange 2…
Using Sean and Daniel’s relationship as an axis, the first episode focused on their vulnerability in the world as Latinx teenagers (juxtaposed by having a literal superpower) and how difficult it is to trust anyone but each other. The second episode connected this to distant family members and how their trust and loyalty isn’t a given, and now Episode 3 follows this up with a cast that chooses its own family instead and explores how trust, whether it’s family or not, is easier to lose than to gain.
Set two months after Episode 2, Wastelands finds the brothers reconnect with Cassidy and Finn (who we met briefly last episode) and join their small crew of homeless drifters. They camp out in a Californian redwood forest and work for a nearby pot farm while they have the chance, which lets Sean save up money for the next leg of their escape to Puerto Lobos, Mexico. Sean has made new friends, Daniel is bonding with Finn, and things are uncharacteristically quiet for the two brothers.
Compared to the last two episodes, Episode 3 is a respite from the relentless tension and dourness. It’s also very small (though not short), with the only locations being the campsite and pot farm, and a total of 11 characters. It feels a little like a bottle episode in this way, which works well for an episode focused on re-establishing its two protagonists.
Most of Wastelands plays out like Episode 2, with the brothers now reversed: where Daniel easily fell into life with his grandparents and found a friend in Captain Spirit’s Chris, Sean tries to enjoy the comfort of his new friends while he can. In the meantime, Daniel is forced to ignore the fact that they finally know where their mother – who he has never met – lives, and this drives a wedge between him and his increasingly-distant older brother.
Episode 3 may play out more smoothly than earlier episodes (at least until the end), but it’s still a very tense experience. Even with the quiet that Episode 3 brings along, you’re always aware that there’s something heartbreaking just around the corner, that there’s danger lurking nearby. Life is Strange 2 is so consistently laced with tension that, even in its calmest moments, you are always uncomfortable on some level.
It makes for an exhausting game, though this isn’t a criticism; that would be like criticising horror for being scary. It’s just become clearer to me that this is a core part of Life is Strange 2’s identity and further evidence that this season won’t appeal to everyone.
Something else I noticed this episode was the difference in how Dontnod handles player choice compared to the original Life is Strange. If Life is Strange gave you full responsibility over your choices by letting you jump back in time freely, Life is Strange 2 tries to be fairer and better balanced across the board, especially in how you interact with Daniel over time. It approaches player choice broadly with fewer centralised choices to branch the story off in dramatically different directions. It gives you opportunities to improve on choices and interactions you might have regretted earlier or double-down on those you stand by. This way, decisions feel far more accurate to your intentions instead of trying to define everything with sweeping, definitive choices.
This also softens an issue I had with Episode 3, where specific choices can often be too broad in their potential action and consequence. Choosing between “Discuss” or “Obey”, for example, was an agonizing couple of minutes but for better or worse, these “big” choices are rarely as all-encompassing as they seem.