Life is a Road Trip
Life is Strange 2 is a story-based game set along the West Coast of America and is the indirect sequel to the tremendously successful Life is Strange. The new game follows a new set of characters, leaving behind the previous protagonists of the series Max and Chloe as well as the setting, Arcadia Bay. For returning players, this can be a barrier to entry; Max and Chloe created many unforgettable moments and replacing them would be a challenge.
Life is Strange 2 follows two brothers, Daniel and Sean who are now on the run following the traumatic events of their father’s death. Daniel is not aware of his father’s passing during the episode, which makes the interactions between the two feel all the more tense. This dynamic makes some conversations very painful for Sean and it builds tension throughout the episode.
The game begins with Sean walking home from school talking with his close friend Lara. He then goes on to prepare for a quintessential high school party, which involves finding party supplies, getting money from your dad and wandering around the family home. This scene is crucial as it shows the player the standard setting for a teenager, where your biggest concerns are beer money and picking the right snacks. When surviving out on the road later, your arbitrary snack decision translates into whether you have any food for the night. This sudden shift in setting makes the brothers’ dangerous journey even more tragic because you have seen what their lives used to be.
The most important aspect of the story is the relationship between the brothers. Sean understands how dire the situation is whereas Daniel is under the illusion that this is a light-hearted adventure. Sean has to care for Daniel and every decision you make influences how Daniel will act and evolve as a person. Stealing food or money, while potentially necessary for survival, can affect Daniel’s morality and he may follow your example.
Can’t runaway from responsibility
However there is a positive side to this feature. There are many opportunities to bond with Daniel by teaching him things like skimming stones and joining in with his games. Daniel’s positivity is a ray of hope in an otherwise bleak situation and the characters rely on each other heavily. This is reflected in the gameplay; you complete tasks with Daniel and your minute-by-minute choices often give you the option to interact with Daniel as well.
Another ray of sunshine is the ability to decorate your backpack. Many of the optional collectibles that you find are stickers or keyrings that you can attach to your ever-present satchel. It is a very minor feature, but picking up a little souvenir from every location you visit makes it feel like your adventure is part of something greater.
This game stood out as a huge contrast from the previous game as it had much more of an investigative feel to it and it definitely wasn’t afraid to begin its story in a much darker setting. We really saw the game delve into deeper subject matter. The Life is Strange series is no stranger to talking about heavier topics tactfully. For example, we’ve previously seen the theme of domestic abuse in The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Unlike other games out there, social stances are not clumsily thrown in last minute, instead it approaches these topics more delicately and makes the player think before taking action.
Themes such as police brutality and the current political climate in America are touched on pretty heavily throughout and there’s even a mention of “building the wall” from a character in the episode. It’s brave of DontNod to talk about those topics in such a confronting way, however this stance not the pivotal message of the game.
Do your choices really matter?
The decisions made during my playthrough really felt like they held weight, it’ll be interesting to see how they carry over into the following episodes. However, the choices were a little binary at times and it would have been better to have more freedom in choosing how to approach some situations. Choices often boil down to “rise above your circumstances and do what is right” and “do whatever you can to survive” without much room to manoeuvre.
There was still a supernatural element present with Daniel’s powers, however it is up to him to use them. As the player is unable to control Daniel, his powers could be used very recklessly if he gets into a tantrum. This mechanics forces you to analyse your relationship with Daniel from a different perspective; treating him poorly or having no control over him could lead to devastating consequences.
Having previously released The Adventures of Captain Spirit as a sort of playable trailer to Life is Strange 2, I am curious to see how Chris will tie into the story. From the ending of Captain Spirit, we can see that Daniel can somewhat control his powers, so hopefully we will have lots of telekinetic action in the next chapter.
Episode One also makes a quick reference to the first game when you pass by Arcadia Bay. Depending on your decision in the first game (which you have to glibly repeat as you begin your Life is Strange 2 playthrough), you will see a bustling town or the ruins of the storm. It is a nice moment of nostalgia, where some of the musical themes of the first game are briefly mixed into the soundtrack, but would not perturb newcomers to the series.
In conclusion, Life is Strange 2 starts promisingly and sets out many interesting premises to be explored. The story is exciting and unpredictable, balancing your supplies and money is stressful and high standards have been set for the rest of the season.