Video Game Review: Life is Strange 2, Episode 1
Life is Strange 2 succeeds by using a new dynamic from the original.
Life is Strange, Dontnod’s breakout hit from several years ago, surprised people by taking the TellTale Games (RIP) formula and adding some new gameplay mechanics into it. But the time-travel aspect was less engaging than the unique original story of Chloe and Max, and how little decisions can snowball into life-defining choices.
While Chloe got a well-received prequel from a different developer, people weren’t quite sure how a true sequel would measure up. Dontnod made the smart choice of emphasizing new characters in the Diaz brothers and a new dynamic.
Good news, fans: Life is Strange 2 is as touching and poignant as the first, but in many ways more brutal and political.
As with the first game — and other interactive fiction — Life is Strange 2 doesn’t have much of a control scheme beyond movement, interaction, and menu navigation. It gets the job done without providing too much of a problem, though there are occasionally clunky movement issues as normally found within the genre.
Though there are some minor improvements to the visuals with Life is Strange 2, but nothing immediately noticeable except for someone examining the finest of details. From a voice acting perspective, though, most of the cast in this game hits the mark. And while nothing’s quite as obtrusive as Chloe’s overuse of “hella” from the first game, there are still moments of clunky forced slang.
Much like the first Life is Strange, the first act of the opening episode, entitled Roads, starts with a bit of scene setting with teen Sean Diaz and his younger brother Daniel. After a catastrophic incident, the brothers embark on a journey from Seattle to Mexico.
Smartly, Dontnod changed the game’s core dynamic from friendship in the first series to one of brotherly mentorship. In short, what you choose to do as Sean impacts the decisions that Daniel makes.
This creates an experience that is reminiscent of Lee and Clementine from the first season of The Walking Dead. At the same time, though, TellTale’s breakout hit felt very binary; Dontnod has provided a little more nuance here in the way decisions impact the game. In fact, Daniel’s AI was reported to be the most complex part of the game’s programming.
The game’s engine also offers more optional conversations and interactions. These are often timed or contextual, offering opportunities to point out details or go deeper into conversations rather than simply moving the plot along. Rushing through the episode is possible, but given the gravity between the brothers’ bond, it feels like doing so would defeat the purpose.
Roads isn’t afraid to throw modern politics and racism in the face of our protagonists. However, one of the unique elements of the narrative stems from the ages of Sean and Daniel. Because you are thrust into the protective role over a young child, the emotional impact runs higher than, say, a political message in a Hideo Kojima game.
Here’s hoping that this type of empathy will help change the minds of at least a few players. On one hand, you could say that some of it is clunky and overtly placed, but on the other hand, that’s kind of reality circa Fall 2018. The result is a humanizing and empathetic effort that works on multiple levels.
Of course, there’s the supernatural element to the game, which ties into the emotions of Daniel (we’ll refrain from spoilers because it does impact the story). This connection makes it more personal than Max’s time-travel abilities; that, along with Daniel’s age, creates numerous conflicts that leave many raw emotional moments.
It seems almost impossible that Life is Strange 2 could hit the same emotional levels as the first game. However, by creating a completely different dynamic, along with some improved ripple-effect/AI tech, Dontnod has done just that, at least for the first episode.