The following review contains minor spoilers for the first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm. To get caught up, check out that review here.
The first episode of Life is Strange: Before The Storm, was a compelling enough dramatic story that I was interested to see what would happen when the second episode came along. There was an interesting, if not an earth-shattering mystery to solve and some interesting indications that there might be more to the overall story than meets the eye. I wasn't sure exactly what I was expecting from Episode 2, though I certainly wasn't expecting what I got. A game that barely touched on the questions of the first episode, but replaced them with a simple, but quality, character drama.
At the conclusion of Episode 1, Rachel Amber set a tree on fire in frustration, after that tree became a symbol for a dramatic event earlier in the story. As Episode 2 opens, there's a forest fire raging in the hills. The fire doesn't really come to play in the plot itself, but it's always out there raging, like it's waiting for its moment to strike. Meanwhile, while nobody knows Rachel and Chloe are responsible for the fire, they are being reprimanded for skipping school. While the game allows for some variation in exactly what happens, it doesn't go great for the girls.
While Episode 2 of Life is Strange: Before the Storm does drop a few breadcrumbs for the player to pick up as regards the "mystery" of the series, including a major, if not completely unexpected, twist at the conclusion of the episode, for the most part, all of that is left alone in exchange for taking Chloe through the experience of life. If Life is Strange were a different sort of game, the entirety of Episode 2 would feel like a side quest. Of course, at the same time, it's not, because the point of Life is Strange: Before the Storm isn't some grand scheme, it's a relationship between two people.
As far that relationship goes, things are...interesting. Rachel Amber actually spends a lot of this episode off-screen, but the bond between the characters is still strong. Before the Storm falls victim to the Romeo and Juliet problem to a large degree. It's difficult to believe that these two are such close friends, considering how little time they've actually spent together. Like the Shakespeare play, this is done because the narrative only has a limited time to tell its story, and so things must be done quickly, but that doesn't mean they get to get away with it.
Also, brush up on your Shakespeare.
Episode 2 of Life is Strange: Before the Storm doesn't have timed QTEs or other more traditional gameplay elements. At one point the game teases you with a puzzle before revealing it's not a puzzle. Instead, it's all about choosing what to say and how to react to your environment. You know, how life is. While the issues that Chloe and Rachel have to deal with in this episode may be a little unusual for the average person, nothing that happens, with the possible exception of a single vivid dream sequence, is something so outrageous that nobody would ever experience it.
Video games have been trying to make themselves more "cinematic" for a long time, but a lot of cinematic experiences are just stories about people living their lives, without magic or space aliens or explosions. Life is Strange: Before the Storm is not the Citizen Kane of video games, but if Citizen Kane were a video game, it would probably look more than a little like Before the Storm.
The first Life is Strange ended with an explosive finale, and while Before the Storm looks to be setting itself up for some emotional moments, it's unlikely that we'll get anything even close to that scope. That's ok. It's actually welcome. Not every game needs a slam-bang finish. Sometimes closure is enough.