Life is Strange 2 Episode 1 Review – Politics & superpowers

Platforms:
Playstation 4Xbox OneMicrosoft Windows
Released:
September 27, 2018
Publisher:
Square Enix
Developer:
Dontnod Entertainment

Review

Where the first Life is Strange showed players the intricacies of 2 close female friends, Life is Strange 2 has kicked off with the complexities of 2 brothers. In the first episode, titled ‘Roads’, we are introduced to the Diaz family, and witness the horrific racism, hardship, and turmoil one family can face.

Life is Strange 2 is not a direct sequel to the original Life is Strange, so Max and the gang aren’t featured (at least in episode 1). While at first I was saddened that I wouldn’t get to see more of the girls I grew to love in the first game, I quickly became emotionally invested in Sean and Daniel Diaz.

Sean and Daniel’s relationship is the true focal point of the game so far. Sean is a high school student with a close group of friends, a loving family led by their single-parent father, and simple desires: a girlfriend, a chance to chill out with some beers, and to figure out what he wants to do with his life.

Younger brother Daniel is a walking stereotype of pre-teens in the current digital age: Minecraft, junk food, and bothering his older sibling is what keeps Daniel ticking. However, disaster strikes when a police officer makes a judgement call (a racially skewed judgement call), resulting in the tragic death of their father, Esteban. In this moment of tragedy, Daniel’s latent abilities manifest as he sends a powerful shockwave across the neighbourhood, killing the police officer and forcing the Diaz brothers on the run.

Life is Strange 2 shines in these emotional moments, and sets a solid foundation in episode 1 to build upon this heartfelt and tragic story. Sean has to become a parent for Daniel; protect him from the truth, ensure his basic needs are met, and find a place for them to go. As Mexican-Americans, Sean decides to head to their father’s hometown in coastal Mexico, a long journey to embark upon with little money, no help, and no vehicle.

The visual style echoes that of the first Life is Strange, but the engine feels like it has been given a bit of a tune-up. Traversal is smooth, interactions with environmental objects feels natural, and the camera is very competent when compared to previous entries in the series. Some of the cutscenes are a bit over-indulgent, with long stretches of an already short episode left unplayable.

The locations the boys travel through are striking and colourful; the yellow haze of suburbia, luscious greens, browns, and blues of a forest, and the sandy concrete nexus of a shoreline motel. Each area the boys face bring challenges to overcome, leaving the player to use some light puzzle solving to see the boys to safety.

‘…I’m left with a longing to continue the story, and a slight disappointment from the extremely brief introduction to the story of the Diaz brothers…”

Unfortunately, the game is geared much more towards story than gameplay, resulting in next-to-no challenge for the player. I like a good narrative-focused game, but also see the importance of engaging the player with some challenging play. The puzzles in Life is Strange 2 are overly simple, where I remember the first Life is Strange had moments where I was left scratching my head for what to do next.

As a result, ‘Roads’ is over before it really feels like it begins. There are no release dates confirmed for future episodes, and I’m left with a longing to continue the story, and a slight disappointment from the extremely brief introduction to the story of the Diaz brothers.

Life is Strange 2 continues the series’ high-point of a cracking soundtrack that complements the mood perfectly. Laid back indie tunes gently waft over the colourful visuals, echoing the moments from the first game where the music took center-stage and carried the players away. The character performances are top-notch, considering the engine they are playing out in, and each has their own defining characteristics. Unique, interesting characters go a long way in a narrative-focused game, and with the superb cast of Life is Strange 2 I am looking forward to more.

The bottom line...

‘Roads’ does a great job at establishing an emotional, challenging, and heartfelt foundation for the rest of Life is Strange 2. Sean and Daniel make a great pair of protagonists, and I can’t wait to see how Daniel’s powers develop over the rest of the season.

I hope they don’t stretch out the episodic releases too long, because I fear that the short  run-time of episode 1 may disengage some players who would have otherwise been hooked from the get-go.