31st Jan2019

‘Life is Strange 2 – Episode 2: Rules’ Review (PS4)

by Xenia Grounds

LIS2-ep2

It’s been a long wait for Episode 2. After the amazing debut, the expectations were running high so did ‘Rules’ deliver and prove to be worth the wait or did the momentum come to a halt?

Life is Strange 2 – Episode 2: Rules takes place one month after the events of Roads. Sean and Daniel have been living in this cabin in the woods while Daniel is being trained how to use his powers. All things considered, it’s not too bad for them even if they’re living on a ravioli diet and don’t have a working bathroom. However, winter has come and it is making Daniel sick. This drives Sean to bite the bullet and go to their grandparent’s residence to get help.

The theme of this episode is rules and what I call walking the fine line. For Sean, it’s the fine line between sibling and parent. For Daniel, it’s the fine line between responsible and irresponsible with his powers. Rules are seen in two respects. The ones Sean sets for Daniel: “Hide your power. Don’t talk about it. Run from danger”. There are also rules that the grandparents have for the two brothers while they are staying. Daniel will be influenced by what Sean deems okay or not on the use of his powers while Sean can stray from the rules that his grandparents have and on the rules that he himself sets.

The grandparents leave their impression pretty quickly from their introduction. Claire is religious and stern who wants things to remain as they are which means she isn’t always the most understanding of the boys and their emotional baggage even with her good intentions. On the other hand, Stephen does get how the brothers are still processing a lot of trauma and grief and how hard things are for them so he wants them to stay where he thinks they’ll be safe but logically it’s not an option. They help to flesh out the history of the Diaz/Reynolds family in a few ways and the troubles it has had over the years. For instance, Sean calls them by their names which shows how distant he is from them and Daniel has never met them. This is all done with little exposition as you experience how smothering Claire and her way of life can be through Sean and his internal monologue and why someone would want to leave it behind or not agree with it.

The choices you make are much more nuanced in Rules than Roads. In many episodic games, you can really determine how callous or kind your player character can be but this isn’t the case in Life is Strange 2. Even at his most dismissive, Sean is still a good person even if you purposely try to be mean. There are some moments where Daniel would push the patience of a saint yet Sean never really loses it with him. The small choices matter as much as the big ones. You can let Daniel think it’s okay to swear and he will curse at the wrong time and place. If you say you don’t believe in heaven, then he won’t either. Bigger choices involve spoilers so I won’t go into them but the right answer may not be as obvious as you think and they can be incredibly brutal physically and emotionally.

When it comes to the plot, this isn’t a high-stakes episode and the pace is much slower. It works in capturing the sense of comfort and normality which the two siblings rarely get to have and seeing them in a domestic environment is a little alien. However, you know it isn’t going to last due to the nature of the story which means you’re on edge from waiting for something to go wrong.

Sean and Daniel still steal the show with their relationship as it’s where the strength in the writing lies. The great performances from actors Gonzalo Martin and Roman Dean George continue to make every moment memorable. The two siblings find little moments of joy in dire circumstances and they have some truly heart-warming moments especially if you do right by Daniel. However, you can see the cracks starting to show because they both have different reasonings on how the powers should be used. Daniel has the great power but Sean is one who has to carry the great responsibility. Daniel may be aware of the situation but being cautious still alludes him. He likes to showcase his power without any regard for discretion or subtlety. Sean is very conscious of not drawing any attention to themselves because they are fugitives. He isn’t sure when is the best time for those powers to be used and Daniel has no problem calling Sean out on his contradictions or not listening to his older brother. This episode may have horrific consequences for their dynamic going forward if you are unfortunate enough to fulfil those conditions (like I sadly did) and I dread the fall-out to come between them in the next episode if this is carried through.

If you played Captain Spirit then you’ll immediately recognise the grandparents’ house. I was wondering how Captain Spirit would factor into this episode and I highly recommend having played it beforehand. There are a few emotional gut punches surrounding Chris and it’ll be mostly lost on you if you don’t have any investment in his backstory. Listening to the instrumental version of ‘Death from Dignity’ is enough to stir emotions if you played the DLC. You know as soon as they meet that Chris and Daniel will get along like a house on fire and it is absolutely adorable to watch their fast friendship.

An aspect that is a little frustrating is to have Sean gain Chris’s trust, you must play this mini-game and if you don’t get it right then you miss out on some powerful scenes which help the Captain Spirit story come to a heartfelt and satisfying ending. Sean’s character development shows the most with his talks with Chris and Charles. Frankly, the older Diaz has enough on his plate but he still shows concern and empathy for Chris once he suspects Chris’s home life isn’t the best. It demonstrates how much growing up Sean has done in the month of looking after Daniel and there’s probably more of that to come for him.

A scene that was greatly appreciated was one between Sean and Charles. Both characters have been forced into looking after a young child with no support which is something they bond over. Beforehand, part of my issue towards Charles came from seeing how even though Sean lost practically everything, he’s still managing to be a good big brother to Daniel. That said, Charles himself acknowledges this and it leads to a very humanising and hopeful conclusion to the arc between Charles and Chris.

There are a few things foreshadowed for future episodes. The most important being the mother. This wasn’t mentioned in the previous review but Sean and Daniel’s mother is not around. Sean feels incredibly bitter this and wants nothing to do with her (he calls her ‘Karen’ instead of ‘Mom’ on many occasions) while Daniel doesn’t know anything about her which has his curiosity piqued. A revelation near the end does make me think she will make an appearance at some point. Without being there, Karen brings out sides of the boys which would be great to explore further like Sean’s strong feelings of abandonment and Daniel’s sadness about not knowing anything about her. They don’t have conflicts about her in this episode per se but it may be a possibility later in the series. There could be an argument on how Sean’s feelings towards her may be clouding his judgement about going to his mother for help. The circumstances of her departure are still mostly a mystery so it’s not known how justified his anger towards her is.

Another potential development would be the introduction of Cassidy in Rules. She doesn’t get much screen-time here but I get the sneaking suspicion she will be back later on. This episode does hint towards a potential romance between her and Sean with their brief interaction. It’s cute how Sean still needs some practice with talking to girls he has an attraction to.

As far as the technical side of things go, there are a few glitches I spotted in Episode 2 as people would vanish into thin air while walking around. Additionally, Daniel’s A.I doesn’t always know what it’s meant to be doing but those instances are rare. The person who did the character design for Sean in Rules should get some praise. Sean looks like he’s aged two years in the course of a month to reflect the stress and hardships that life on the road has had on him while subtly demonstrating the time skip.

Life is Strange 2 – Episode 2: Rules is a slower episode when it comes to pacing and plot development but the relationship between Sean and Daniel continues to shine. There are some emotional gut punches and we get to see sides of the two Diaz brothers that weren’t seen as much previously. This episode serves as promising set-up for future conflicts and stories further down the road. At the time of this review, it isn’t known when Episode 3 will be released but if the current release pattern for Life is Strange 2 doesn’t change then it might come out in April or May.

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