If there’s one thing that Life is Strange 2’s first episode really gets right, it’s pacing. The nuances in the story-telling, the spit-second decisions players must make, and the relationship between two brothers unfolding. This sequel to Life is Strange begins an impressive tale that should have been more difficult to pull off as a follow up.
Even though Life is Strange 2 is set in the same world as the first title and Before the Storm, developer Dontnod has masterfully begun a tale that doesn’t involve any characters or story elements from either. Instead, focusing on two new characters allows them to create an independent world within this overarching narrative that deftly follows two main characters. Players control Sean Diaz, a young man who struggles to form his own relationships.
Sean is a typical teen, smoking right outside his house hoping his dad won’t catch him, struggling to find the right words to ask out his crush, sneaking beer out of his house to go to a party. Dontnod has done a commendable job with creating Sean and his brother Daniel. I feel like most teens or younger children are always portrayed strangely in video games, but these two are well crafted and relatable.
Life is Strange 2 doesn’t just let players make their own decisions to help craft the narrative though. After a tragic accident (no spoilers, I promise), the two end up on the road headed to Mexico. With no car, no camping gear, and only two brothers to support each other on their journey. As Daniel walks around with Sean, he observes his actions. He listens to what Sean has to say. This is a journey of growing up, for 10-year-old Daniel as much as 16 year old Sean.
If players leave Daniel to his own devices, he can still exist on his own as well. Daniel will wander around observing his environment and learning. About halfway through episode one, he even fell going over a fallen tree because I wasn’t there to help him. This dirtied his clothes, and even this small action played out in how characters in the rest of the episode reacted to him.
This episode takes place shortly after the Trump/Clinton election. While Dontnod has said that the whole season will take place over the course of the year, this episode definitely plays with political themes. One character takes Sean prisoner, saying “this is why we need that wall.” A lot of the episode is pretty dark, but light moments seep out of the dialogue and relationship of Daniel and Sean. As they continue their journey, their relationship continues to blossom, resulting in some incredibly touching moments.
The voice acting and dialogue is top notch too. Despite having weird facial animations, I don’t think any of the characters fall in line with tropes that appear far too often in the genre. The ensemble cast never stick around too long to overstay their welcome, and the diversity in the cast is refreshing.
Visually, Life is Strange 2 feels heads and shoulders above the first. I recently finished playing the first title, and the sequel makes everything seem much crisper. Facial animations and gestures are still a misstep, but the whole episode feels a lot smoother than what came before. A small detail that I really like are the collectibles. As players collect these hidden objects, they can be equipped to Daniel’s backpack. These appear in game as he is walking around and serve as a way to chronicle their “road trip” in an interesting way.
Speaking of Daniel’s backpack, everything he carries is put in there, and players can always open it up to see what he’s lugging around. Another interesting thing about the inventory system is that Daniel’s wallet is constantly dropping depending on what players interact with. Purchasing items at a vending machine, or spending a couple bucks on a claw machine for Daniel results in dwindling funds for the two. I’m not sure how this will play out over the rest of the episodes, but I tended to be a little more frugal than I am in real life.
It’s small details like the wallet and collectibles that make Life is Strange 2 already so special. Having Daniel follow Sean around the whole time allow for some great big brother teaching moments between the two. As much as a liked the first Life is Strange, I feel like there were a lot of pacing issues. Dontnod has crafted an intriguing tale of two brothers that never sticks in one setting for too long. They’ve learned a lot over two games about weaving a story that leaves players anticipating the next episode, and I’m really looking forward to seeing this relationship between two brothers when Life is Strange 2 continues.
Life is Strange 2: Episode 1 is available now for Playstation 4, Xbox One, and PC. This review is based on a PS4 copy provided by the publisher. Purchases are available here.