While I came to the original Life is Strange late in the game, after every episode had already been released, I loved the story the game told. The story of Max and Chloe was a heartbreaking one, no matter how it ended and it showed that the team at DONTNOD Entertainment was on to something. Now, with Life is Strange 2, the universe of Life is Strange has begun to expand and while the first episode is far from revolutionary, it is a promising first step in a new direction with new characters.
You play as Sean Diaz, an American teenager of Mexican descent living in the Seattle, Washington area. You live with your father, a mechanic, and your younger brother Daniel, and your biggest concern is how you’re going to impress the girl you like. Unfortunately, when a tragic series of events unfolds, Sean is forced to grab his younger brother and run away from home. On the run from the police, Sean heads south, with some rough idea of getting to the Mexican town where his father grew up, where he might find potential safety.
Gameplay is, for the most part, identical to the previous Life is Strange and other modern adventure games of its type. You walk around a map, interact with the environment, pick up objects, and engage in dialogue with other characters. Decisions you make have the potential to change the story as you progress through the episode as well as in future episodes. The changes between the original Life is Strange and the sequel are subtle but welcome. Not all dialogue sections force you to stand there and talk, instead, you’re frequently able to move around and continue to interact with your environment while still engaged in conversation. It feels more natural.
However, the biggest change comes from the new perspective that Life is Strange 2 takes. It’s clear from early on that while the player is in control of Sean, this isn’t really his story. In the same way that Telltale’s original season of The Walking Dead was more about Clementine than Lee, Life is Strange 2 looks like it will be about Daniel, not Sean, but told through Sean’s eyes. Daniel is always there watching you and even if a decision you make doesn’t technically involve him, he’s a young child and he’s soaking things up like a sponge. Your job as the player is to lead by example. If the example you set is a bad one, well…
These changes are minor, and by the end of Episode 1, they’ve hardly had a major impact on the game. While that could certainly change in future episodes, Episode 1 feels like any other modern adventure game. It remains to be seen how drastically the choices you make will impact the game, though the fact that the biggest decision of Episode 1 is made for you is a bit frustrating for a series that claims that you can control things.
What’s clear about Life is Strange 2 is that the game clearly has something it wants to say. While the original Life is Strange, as well as its prequel Life is Strange: Before the Storm dealt primarily with female relationships, of both the loving and the dangerous kind, Life is Strange 2‘s focus is on giving an audience a glimpse at what it’s like being a minority. And the game is not subtle. One character I met on my travels even commented that he wanted to “build the wall,” in case you were curious how closely the Life is Strange universe mirrors our own. The game’s inciting incident is one so “ripped from the headlines” you half expect the cast of Law & Order to show up.
Life is Strange fans may have noticed I have yet to mention anything about the supernatural powers that were a key part of the gameplay of the first game. In order to avoid spoilers I’m not going to go too deep into them, as most of the detail as to how they will impact the plot isn’t revealed until the end of the episode, but needless to say, powers of that sort do exist in the game, though they’re not identical to the powers of the first game, and how exactly they integrate into the story will be somewhat different.
Overall I’m not waiting with baited breath for the next episode of Life is Strange 2, but I am certainly interested enough to see where things go. Honestly, that’s about where I was at this point in the first Life is Strange. That game also took some time to get going, but once it did, it was an emotional journey worth taking. If that happens here as well, I won’t complain.
This review was completed with an Xbox One version of the game provided by the publisher.