I first stumbled on the Life is Strange series around 3 years ago and at that time I needed a game that was relaxed in its gameplay but incredibly rich in story. I didn’t know much about the game before I picked it up but it completely delivered on everything that I was looking for and I quickly became hooked on the series. When I heard that Life is Strange 2 was in the works I was excited to see where the new story would go, although apprehensive that it would no longer follow Max and Chloe, who I had become quite fond of in the first game.
In Life is Strange 2, we now follow two young brothers, Sean and Daniel Diaz, although in the same universe it is now a few years on from the original story and has no correlation to anything that happened prior. One of the things that Life is Strange has always done well is character building and really tapping into the player’s feelings. Before long I was completely engrossed in the lives of Sean and Daniel and my initial reservations around character replacement had all but faded away.
At the outset, Sean is a seemingly normal teen dealing with the usual issues of teen angst, peer pressure, parties, and girls. Daniel is much like any young child, craving his big brother’s attention and getting into mischief. Initially it seems like any other day, but as you can expect, it is not long before their lives are thrown into turmoil and they find themselves out on the road alone. They crave the normalcy of their old lives but things will never be the same, and there is no turning back.
Sean is forced to become an adult overnight but if that wasn’t enough of a struggle, he must also become a father figure and role model to his younger brother. Every action you take not only has a consequence for yourself but it will also have a lasting impact on Daniel and may affect the choices he makes in the future. What’s nice is that even in the very first episode you can already see their relationship start to blossom and their bond strengthen dramatically. Sean needs Daniel just as much as Daniel needs him.
Along with the usual interactive object highlight, there is now an additional blue highlight. These are interactions that you can have with Daniel, teaching him about forest life and pushing him to not give up when he is tired. Daniel is at an age where he is very impressionable and as is the implication with the Life is Strange games, all your actions have consequences.
As with the first game this game also deals with some controversial subject matter, it becomes quite clear in this episode that one of these undertones is around the issue of racism. Although I think that is a very important discussion point and relevant to our current times, I am not sure how I feel about how this message was delivered. It seemed quite crass in its delivery and as this is a sensitive and emotive subject for some, I think that it maybe could have been implemented a little differently. I do however appreciate the bravery in tackling these subjects and I think it is an all-round important message.
Everything you own is contained in your backpack, along with sentimental items from home, there is a collection of new items that you find on your travels. Here you can also keep track of how little money you have left. It really gives a sense to how little you and your brother truly now have and makes every little item that much more precious.
Some of the nicest moments are when you are able to sit, reflect, take in the scenery and listen to Sean’s inner monologue. This is not a necessary action but it really helps you to understand Sean better, most of the time he is putting on a brave face for his brother but in these moments his thoughts are fully exposed. Similarly there is a nice addition of being able to sketch certain scenes in Sean’s notebook, capturing some of these little moments in time is a lovey addition however the execution is quite cumbersome.
It actually took me a while to figure out how this worked and the mechanics around the sketching could have been a lot clearer. It wasn’t obvious that wiggling the thumb stick would pen the sketch to paper and I am not sure ultimately how necessary this was. The brothers encounter quite a few different characters in episode 1, some of these people have their best interests at heart but others pose much more of a threat. It’s not always easy to see their motives from the start and they will quickly learn some tough life lessons on who not to trust.
As with the previous games your choices are outlined at the end of each episode and it is interesting to see how your choices align with the greater audience and some choices that you may have missed. If you are a fan of the series, you will know that the dialogue can often be a little on the cheesy side but that has become part of the games charm. Some of the voice actors are notably better than others and initially this can be a little distracting. After playing for some time this feels like less of an issue as you become more invested in the character as a whole.
The audio and soundtrack really set the scene. There are times when moments of quiet are necessary for contemplation and these quiet spaces are filled with just the right amount of ambient sounds. Due to the upgrade to the Unreal 4 engine there has been a clear overhaul in the graphics and animations since the first game. Characters are much more humanistic, and there are some beautiful scenic moments. Environments are jam packed with objects and details, it’s easy to miss some of the finer details because there is so much to see.
There has always been a great deal of replay value in the Life is Strange games due to the amount of choices to be made and the impact those choices have on the overall story. I have found myself on several run-throughs choosing all different options just to see where I might end up and what dialogue I may have missed. As the story and characters are completely different to the other games in the series, you don’t need to be an existing fan to be able to pick this game up and enjoy it.
Episode 1 really is a journey that tugs on your heartstrings and plays with your emotions, so much so that I can’t wait to see how the brothers and their relationship develops over the coming episodes. No doubt there will be many more horrific challenges in their way, but I am eager to see how things pan out. Life is Strange 2 is off to a great start.
This game was tested and reviewed on Xbox One. All of the opinions and insights here are subject to that version.