The first Life Is Strange was a slow burner, both in terms of its internal drama about angsty teens and its critical and commercial acclaim. Over time, it has grown from an interesting narrative curio to a beloved tale with an eagerly anticipated full sequel — especially after mixed results in the first season's spin-off, Life Is Strange: Before The Storm. Now that full sequel is here, with entirely new characters, new supernatural weirdness and a new emotional journey.
The second season's story sets out a political stall almost from the start, unlike the first game which seasoned sensitive issues of suicide, mental health and sexuality throughout the drama. Protagonist Sean and his brother Daniel are sons of a Mexican immigrant and the incident which sparks the brothers' hasty road trip is deeply rooted in perceived attitudes towards immigrant families, whether that attitude comes from aggressive teenagers or law enforcement. When Sean and Daniel are on the road, they come across another character who makes wild assumptions about their intentions and punishes them for it — and thanks to a few key lines of dialogue, there's no doubt that the game is set in today's real-life America. While it's certainly a brave move to double down on a politically sensitive topic, the issues aren't very well explored in this first episode. The opening incident is over quickly and wrapped up in a supernatural mystery, while the antagonist the brothers meet on the road feels like a caricature. We learn very little about the character's motivations and they too are apparently gone from the story in a matter of minutes. Hopefully later episodes will dare to explore some of the ramifications of these attitudes on the siblings, particularly on younger brother Daniel's perception of himself.
Luckily the central relationship between the two brothers is very strong and well written, as well as older sibling Sean's relationship with his father and his best friend Lyla. As Sean, one of the key through-lines in the episode (and presumably the rest of the game) is how your decisions affect Daniel's upbringing. There are plenty of moments in just this first episode that suggest that Sean's moral decisions will not only affect Daniel's mood but also his actions, his perception of right and wrong. More importantly, Sean's struggles to take on the responsibilities of surrogate parenthood while the boys are on the road is palpable in every interaction, whether he's trying to act cheerful for Daniel or taking a moment to reflect on his troubles in an internal monologue. Sean seems more alive and conflicted than permanently dazed Max Caulfield in the first season. There are two very emotional moments near the end of the episode in which Sean is the only character on screen, making tough decisions about letting go of the past; this is a testament to vastly improved character building and better dialogue writing in general.
The art style of the first game at times felt like a budgetary shortcut — while it had an impressionist look, one felt that this mainly came down to a lack of resources to produce something more refined. In Life is Strange 2 the base look of the game is similar and identifiable, but it feels much more refined and solid, a true artistic choice rather than a necessary one. This is never more apparent than the sequence in the woods by the river, a truly beautiful setting that invites the player to quietly reflect on the emotional drama that has played out thus far. Animations are still a little jerky — as in the first game, even the most emphatic hug between characters is dampened somewhat by the fact that the character models never seem to actually touch. Luckily the improved dialogue and character work makes this a minor complaint. In terms of music, the original compositions are maybe a little too similar to the first game to feel fresh — but a couple of excellent licensed music choices make up for it.
In terms of gameplay, the basic interactivity is identical to the first game. It's adventure-game lite; you interact with objects in the world, you pick them up, you talk to people — but you don't do a lot of puzzling. There's nothing inherently wrong with any of this, but the second game feels a little lacking on the gameplay side. This is because there's no real mystery or investigative element; Max was always trying to solve something, from the identity of the blue haired girl to the secret of her own powers. Sean on the other hand is just trying to survive and get his brother from A to B; with "B" relatively ill-defined by the end of the first episode. There's a supernatural element, but its nature seems like a pretty straightforward comic book super-power. Without the time-travel or something equally mind-bending to replace it Life is Strange 2's gameplay feels disappointingly functional, which puts additional pressure on the story to keep delivering throughout the series.
This is a problem, because the second half of the first episode already showed signs of narrative uncertainty. While there are some key character moments that pack a punch, there's a certain listlessness to the narrative purpose; the "road trip" itself doesn't feel hugely urgent or dramatic, and thus far the supernatural element hasn't added much more. A post-credits sting implies that the mystical element may become more of an assertive and driving factor in the next episode, which is a relief. The character relationships can only take us so far; there needs to be an exciting mystery or drama forming the backbone. Life is Strange 2 is showing a decent amount of promise in the first episode, but in the current industry climate an episodic game needs to confidently prove its own worth as a long-term investment. Hopefully the second episode can harden our resolve for the long road ahead.
In terms of trophies, the list is pretty much identical to the first season. Instead of photos, the collectibles this time around are souvenirs that can be attached to your backpack — we have full guides on the site already. Grab all six collectibles and finish the story to get as much of the list as is available right now. A Gold trophy and the Platinum attached to the first episode require you to complete all subsequent episodes when they release, so it's worth bearing that in mind before purchase.
SummaryLife is Strange 2 kicks off with some bold storyline choices and a wonderfully crafted central character. The art style feels more defined than ever before and is beautiful for it, and the series has shed some of its awkward teenage soap opera vibe in its dialogue. The pacing falters somewhat in the second half of the first episode and the gameplay is feeling a little basic without Max's time-travelling super-powers, but there is still a lot of promise. Here's hoping that the second episode can refine the purpose and urgency of Sean and Daniel's journey, and give us a little more intrigue alongside the powerful emotional storytelling.
- Art and animation style seems more refined
- Dramatic and emotional opening sequence
- Signposting is better than before, improving the pace
- Story bottoms out after the opening incident
- Feels lacking in gameplay without the investigative elements
The reviewer spent four hours learning to be a big brother and decorating his backpack, earning 9 of 11 trophies. A digital code was provided by the publisher for this review.
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