Life Is Strange 2 - Episode 1
This Thursday saw the release of Life Is Strange 2 for Xbox, PS4 and PC (probably, I only know Xbox for sure.) I’m going to try and keep this review as spoiler free as possible but if you don’t want to know anything at all then bookmark this now and bail. Just remember to come back when you’ve played the episode.
Speaking of which, the episodic release schedule returns making the game very easy to finish in one or two sittings without taking up the entire day. I used to get frustrated by that type of release but now, with a busy life and less time to dedicate to playing video games I actually really appreciate it.
The sequel introduces us to a brand new set of characters headlined by the player character, seventeen year old Sean Diaz and his nine year old brother Daniel. In the prologue we meet the boys father and Seans best friend. Much like Max’s journal from the original or Chloe’s from Before The Storm, Sean has a sketchbook you can read through for extra depth to the characters. You can also scan through his phone messages to get a good idea of his relationship to other characters. All of this is totally optional and in most games I would skip it but there is something about these games that always makes me want to read everything. Maybe it is just an appreciation for the work the writing team put in.
We’re not in Arcadia Bay this time but we’re still in the Pacific Northwest, just south of Seattle, so the feeling and atmosphere is very similar. This game is set around Halloween 2016, three years after the events of the first Life Is Strange. There are a few licensed songs that compliment the score by Syd Matters and all the music in the game is time relevant, so nothing released post-October ’16 is featured. There are also a lot of references to other video games of the time, Daniel is nine and obsessed with Minecraft, both the boys have played The Last Of Us and describe some fungi on a tree as looking like a clicker, great stuff to pay homage to other studios and make it all very relatable.
I was a little surprised that the game was set a couple of years in the past but my presumption is so that they can reference the events in Arcadia Bay or possibly encounter some of those characters. The game asks you as you start whether you played the original or not and if you did what choice you made at the games climax.
Sean Diaz is a good player character, easily relatable. He’s got the usual struggles of a high schooler; girls, friends, parties, family, skateboarding, athletics and art. He’s not a bad kid, he smokes weed, his dad knows is and punishes him when he catches him, but never badly.
The relationship with the boys dad is refreshing; too often in media, games especially, they rely on the abusive father trope, but that isn’t the case here at all. He’s just a single dad trying to do what he can for his boys. Their mom isn’t around, we don’t know why but I get the impression that she ran out on the family but is still alive somewhere.
I’m happy to see the game studio make some choices that won’t please all sides of the political spectrum. The main characters are from Mexican heritage and deal with the racism that unfortunately comes along with that in modern America. Their next door neighbour acts as a catalyst for the main plot of the game and a simple misunderstanding and argument leads to a tragic accident and Sean makes the choice of taking a passed out Daniel and running. From there the rest of the episode plays out like a road movie, we meet characters but nice and nasty but they feel temporary as we’re always trying to move on. The game may be set a month before Trump’s election but when one particularly unsavoury character talks about building the wall it really leaves an unpleasant taste in your mouth and reestablishes the games in our world despite some of the more fantastical moments.
In The original game we very early are introduced to Max’s time reversing abilities and slowly learn the rules and mechanics behind that. In Before The Storm they wisely didn’t include anything like that as it wouldn’t have fit in the prequel. With this game they seem to have found a balance, Sean and therefore the player, doesn’t have any ‘powers.’ In place of the button that would reverse time we can focus on Daniel and if he’s out of sight, call for him. Daniel is an NPC who will do his own thing, he’ll stay relatively close by to his big brother but he’ll not be afraid to run off and look at some markings on a tree or try to skip stones on the river. The ‘power’ we wield in this game is our responsibility to him. Not just keeping him safe but raising him. That’s not to say there isn’t anything sci-fi/supernatural in this game, it’s still most definitely grounded in the same universe where Max had the power to jump back in time at will, but there isn’t much to say about that in this episode so I’ll let you discover it yourself and talk about it more when episode two drops.
Superpowers aren’t integral to telling a compelling story, playing as Chloe Price was just as engaging as Max Caulfield and the same is going for Sean Diaz so far.
As has become a staple in these games the quiet moments of reflection are amazing. You can choose to sit down somewhere and just take a minute, you’ll get a bit of inner-monologue from Sean about whats going on and how he’s feeling but then you’re just left to pick back up at your own pace. There’s one moment in particular, when you come upon a gas station and Sean describes stopping at these types of stops on road trips and how they always feel like home, I loved that moment and it reminded me of a particularly similar stop at Hana on Maui.
I really love the original game and connected with it despite not being able to directly relate to the main protagonists. With this game though there are certain elements; parental loss the struggles of being a brother, things like that that really hit home for me and I find it hard to be objective. I’m not saying there are direct parallels, but I get these characters and where they’re coming from, I love it.
Oh yeah, the scene at the end of the episode gave me massive flashbacks to the Tetsuo/Kaneda scene from Akira. Thankfully it ends better than how that one did but that’ll all I’ll say without giving too much away.