Quickie Reviews #39

 

Life is Strange: Beyond the Storm – Episode One

The first season of Life is Strange was one of my favorite games from 2015 — so I was obviously excited when a new entry was announced. However, when I learned that it was being developed by a different studio, wouldn’t feature Max as the protagonist and therefore wouldn’t include its famous time manipulation mechanics,¬†and wouldn’t even star Ashly Burch as Chloe thanks to the recent voice actors strike… well, my expectations were tempered a bit.

Before the Storm acts a prequel to Life is Strange season one, telling the story of how Chloe and Rachel met and became maybe something more than friends. And it’s their scenes together that are the highlight of this first episode. I’m hoping the next two episodes focus more on this relationship, because the back half of episode one was much stronger than the first half from a story and character perspective.

To replace the time manipulation, the developers implemented a “talk back” mechanic, where Chloe effectively trash talks people to get them to do what she wants. Essentially, the person you’re talking to will say something, and you need to click the insult option that’s most associated with what they said. It’s incredibly lame — like, painfully so. This isn’t helped by some of the same “older white dudes writing teenage female characters” stuff from the first season.

But I keep going back to the final scenes of this episode, as they’re the ones that make me actually want to keep playing. The character stuff between Chloe and Rachel feels real. I mean, I was never a bi-curious teenage girl, but their scenes at least play out like I’d think they would. And as a aside, the lack of Ashly Burch was a little weird at first, but her replacement does a fine job overall. I more missed the presence of Max, who I always thought was a more compelling character than Chloe.

I’m definitely more looking forward to the proper season two of Life is Strange — but in the meantime, Before the Storm at least somewhat scratches that teen angst itch.

7.2/10

 

The Leftovers – Season Three

The HBO Now description of The Leftovers’ series finale reads, “Nothing happens. Everything happens. And then it ends.” I think that’s pretty good way to sum up the final season of The Leftovers.

Just like with Lost, there are undoubtedly Leftovers superfans that would argue I’m just not smart or deep enough to grasp all of the metaphor and social commentary contained in this final season. To those people, I say “Good joke.” The final season of The Leftovers reeks of a show with no direction that was forced to wrap itself up — and rather than answering the questions already posed, it only offers up new ones. At least, that’s what it does when it isn’t diving so far up its own ass that sunlight can’t even reach.

I can’t begin to describe how disappointed I am as I sit here writing this. My review of the first season spoke to the huge potential the concept offered, and how delighted I was that the show focused more on the characters than it did the mystery. The opposite is true of season three. Characters do thing to drive the plot forward — or, more accurately, to confuse viewers for the sake of confusion.

I’ve always found that a jump forward in time between tv seasons to be a cheap way of establishing new mystery. Because why continue a story when it’s so much easier to start a new one? Season three follows in season two’s footsteps in that regard, establishing completely new — and often ridiculous — circumstances for our characters. Certain supporting characters are given short shrift or written out of the plot entirely.

Despite the renewed¬†prioritization of drama and mystique, the focus is in the wrong place. If you’re looking for an answer to the mystery of “why,” you won’t get it here. That’s completely fine — and in fact, my preferred “resolution” — but at least give me something to hold onto when it comes to the characters and their arcs. The show definitely answers the “what” of it all, offering a verbal glimpse at what life looks like for those on the “other side,” but that’s the far less interesting question.

The Leftovers, like Lost before it, squanders a phenomenal concept and promising start for the sake of shock and awe. But at least we only had to deal with that ridiculousness for one season this time around.

6.1/10

 

Vice Principals – Season Two

Similar to my feelings on season one, the second and final season of Vice Principles brings a surprising amount of heart to bare. The season focuses mainly on Neal Gamby (Danny McBride) repaired his fractured relationships in the wake of his attempted murder. He’s also trying to figure out just who did pull the trigger, and there are more than a few fun twists in that story.

A new status quo is also set up, with Lee Russell (Walton Goggins) now the sole principal and Gamby acting as his vice principal. There’s obvious friction still between the two, despite their recent alliance against Dr. Brown.

One of my chief complaints of the first season was that Russell clearly felt like the secondary character, with Gamby getting most of the character development. While this is still Gamby’s story, a significant amount of time is spent expanding on Russell’s home life, and why he is the way he is. Not all of it is effective, but I appreciated the effort. All of this is also immensely important as the murder sub-plot further unravels.

As far as the humor goes, it’s more of the same from creators Danny McBride and Jody Hill. That isn’t a bad thing — you just know at this point if you like McBride’s style or not. I will say that the final two episodes are suitably over the top, and the show wraps up in a very emotionally satisfying way — especially considering just how off-the-rails things became toward the end.

All in all, Vice Principals was a nice, small package of a show. Its mere 18 episodes felt like the perfect amount of time to live in this world — though I wouldn’t be opposed to seeing Gamby and Russell team up again for one final ride into insanity.

8.8/10

 

Telltale’s Guardians of the Galaxy – Episode Two

I wasn’t a huge fan of Guardians of the Galaxy episode one, and things don’t get much better in episode two. I get that it’s really hard to do comedy well in video games, but considering this is an adventure game where there isn’t much else going on, I’d expect the jokes and timing to hit better than they do.

The story is expanded in episode two, and it’s suitably weird. That’s really the main hook keeping me going in this game. It’s not that I’m particularly¬†invested in learning more about Peter’s mom and whatever is happening with the Eternity Forge, but there’s enough going on that I don’t feel like I’m completely wasting my time.

Still, it’s hard to consider this game anything other than a disappointment, considering the backlog of great games that have come from Telltale and the strength of the license. I guess you can chalk this up as yet another money grab from a studio that clearly overstretched itself. That’s too bad.

Anecdotally, I had fewer issues on the technical side than I did the first time around, with the exception being that the game straight up crashed to desktop 20 minutes into the first time I tried to play it — thus the delay between me playing episodes one and two. I was pretty ready to move on from this game at the time.

6.2/10

 

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