The second episode of Life is Strange 2, Rules, slowed things down. This episode didn’t cram quite as much into its running time as the first. Rules also ties into the previously released Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit by using choices made in that mini-episode in its own plot, something which turned out to be quite underwhelming. Aside from this tie in, the system of player choice impacting the story has continued to grow more sophisticated. Unfortunately, Rules also demonstrates why that idea might be better in theory than in execution.
Rules takes its name from the rules that Sean gives Daniel for using his telekinesis power and those given to the brothers by their grandparents. These two areas are the focus of the episode and they are really dwelled upon in the space left by the narrative. Like, really, really dwelled upon. It sometimes felt like the writers had a bet on who could get the title into the dialogue the most.
Who Wants to Talk About Identity?
Rules opens with Daniel and Sean getting some respite from their nomadic trek to Mexico. They spend some time with their as-yet-unmentioned maternal grandparents, which gives both a little more development. Daniel is shown in a context outside of his relationship with Sean. Seeing Daniel interact with Chris and his grandparents puts him a new light but still every bit the believable 9-year-old.
The grandparent’s plotline is enjoyable enough, but kind of falls flat at the end. At the close of Rules, the brothers are essentially in the exact same position as they were at the beginning. However, the character work feels like an equal trade-off.
Maternal grandparents introduce an element that looks likely to reappear, their mum. Sean’s mixed emotions about her clashes with Daniel’s natural curiosity. The first is apprehensive, even about spending time with their mother’s parents. He is consistently firm in his belief that their future lies with their father’s family in Puerto Lobos. This gives us a nice contrast with Daniel. He bonds with his maternal family and clearly yearns to learn more about his mother, the older brother is much more tied to his father’s Mexican heritage. Sean’s reaction to Episode 1’s events is to embrace his dad’s identity as the solution to their problems.
In this way, the clash between the Diaz brother’s two identities develops some of the themes of naturalization and race from the first episode. Their dad’s death was because of his race. As a reaction, Sean embraces this heritage entirely and seems to resent the other identity he carries. Daniel is less committed, having not been around for the damage his Mum caused or in any frame of mind to properly process the links between his race and their father’s death.
Forgotten Awesome Adventures
The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit hit all notes that you’d want from a dramatic plot-driven game. Captain Spirit’s appearance in Rules was a little disappointing. The driving force of Awesome Adventures was the relationship between Chris and his dad. This was only mentioned once in Rules. That mention is only accessible if you can remember which of Chris’s toys were good or bad guys, relegating the plot to an optional segment. Even if you do experience it, it’s more of a reference than a development.
The absence is a little jarring. Scenes of the boys getting along and Chris’s dad taking them to buy a Christmas tree are given a bittersweet feeling. Chris’s home life was presented as relatively stable in Rules. However, we know from Awesome Adventures that it is really quite dark.
Chris’s story is left clearly finished at the end of Rules, but without any real closure. In a way that’s quite fitting, Daniel briefly lets Chris believe the superpowers are his, this brief window of supernatural ability brings some light to Chris’s life. It briefly elevates him to the position of the protagonist. He becomes the central character; someone whose tragic backstory is only the beginning of their awesome adventures.
When Chris loses this power, he is back to being a supporting character. There is no closure for his problems, they are just colour in our protagonist’s journey. There is no escape from these sorts of situations. Chris’s relationship with his dad isn’t black and white, but there’s no superpower to make his story more than a kid growing up in a crappy home. The lack of closure is a depressingly realistic portrayal of kids being raised in a terrible situation.
Do You Like Foreshadowing?
There are only really two characters present in Rules outside of the family and the cast of Awesome Adventures. A young girl and boy are introduced, although they are a pretty clear set-up for future episodes. They’re punks who invite Sean to join them riding the rails. Cassidy even sings. Weirdly, she sings an acoustical open-mic-at-a-yuppie-bar kind of song, even down to the choice of band to cover. You don’t hear a lot of First Aid Kit around crust-punks.
During Rules, you can read an extract from Brody’s blog, the main supporting character from the first episode. It is worth mentioning as it details his regret of not sticking with Sean and Daniel. This almost reads more like the opinion of DONTNOD than the character.
A Clear Driveway is The Key to Everything
Rules promised to take into account the choices you made in Awesome Adventures, but the execution is lacking. The bulk of the integration comes down to whether or not snow has been cleared from a driveway. That’s about it.
Did he clear the snow? Did he not?
Play the prequel and you can make this momentous decision.
The impact of smaller decisions you made about raising Daniel has begun to surface in Rules. An example is Daniel’s language. Depending on previously unimportant dialogue choices, he might have picked up your filthy mouth. This unique take on a sibling relationship remains the standout feature of Life is Strange 2, to both demonstrate its mechanics and highlight its fantastic writing.
The ending of the game is worth talking about as it highlights a pretty central issue. So some major spoilers here, sorry.
Rules continues to show off the more nuanced take on the game’s choices system. You do have more influence over events and it pays off. Disappointingly though, you can begin to see why this doesn’t help developers tell a single cohesive story. One ending to Rules gives some closure to Chris’s story in a depressing kind of way.
If you end up with this ending straight from the Darkest Timeline, you forgo any proper explanation of how Daniel and Sean escape from their pursuers. In each other ending there is a plausible explanation but here there is just a cut to the final scene. It would have only taken some brief dialogue to paper over this crack. However, it is clear that all three endings had to align at the same spot to continue the story. It’s disappointing, but a good example of why a more complex interaction system doesn’t work as well as fans might hope.
Life is Strange 2 Rules takes a little more time to breathe. It gives you some space to learn more about the characters and enriches its world for it. It’s disappointing that the narrative begins to rely on some cheap tricks to get itself out of snares. Rules is a more thoughtful episode that lays some decent groundwork for the story to continue.
- Great character work
- Improved player interaction system
- Continually fantastic writing and voice acting
- Poor utilisation of Captain Spirit
- Issues with choose-your-own-adventure elements
- Crust Punks don’t sing like that.