Three years ago, DONTNOD Entertainment struck gold with their episodic narrative adventure Life is Strange, which performed well both commercially and critically and put the developer on the map. Fans were understandably excited when a sequel was announced, but were left with reason to be skeptical when it was revealed that the new game would feature an entirely new cast of characters and location, rather than continuing the story of the first game with returning, beloved characters. So, will this new entry be destined for the same kind of success and popularity that the first game received?
In my opinion, the first episode of Life is Strange 2 doesn’t get off to the best start. The opening scenes have a lot of exposition, with the game preferring to simply tell the player about events and character relationships, rather than allowing the player to experience them for their selves. I kind of understand why this may have been somewhat necessary, as I’m sure the developers wanted to get the ball rolling, rather than spending too much time setting everything up and risking the player getting bored. Still, it would have been nice if the series’ excellent environmental storytelling took more precedence over exposition.
I’m very excited to see how this role model mechanic plays out in the rest of the season.
I was also kind of bummed out to see that this game’s protagonist, Sean Diaz, seemed to exemplify traits so typical of teenagers. This is a kid who lazily goes about his days complaining about school, getting high and drunk with his friends, criticizing his hometown, worrying about his love life, and getting overly annoyed with his family. One of the things I loved so much about the first Life is Strange was that the protagonist of that game, the time-warping Max Caulfield, deviated pretty far from the usual teenage stereotypes that most coming-of-age stories seem to want to base all of their characters off of. So being put in the shoes of just another annoying teenager in this game was kind of disheartening.
However, after this sub-par introduction, Life is Strange 2 picks up greatly. A terrible tragedy sets in motion the events for the rest of the game, and that’s when things start to really get interesting. Most of the game (or at least this first episode) centers around the relationship between Sean and his younger brother, Daniel. It’s really interesting to see how the tragic event at the beginning of the game forces Sean to change his ways, quickly transforming from a typical teenager to someone who realizes that that kind of attitude simply won’t do anymore. That said, this isn’t an over-night transformation; Sean still retains his tendency to get overly annoyed with Daniel at times, and he doesn’t always know how to be the most responsible person in the world. However, in true narrative adventure fashion, a lot of this is also largely determinate on how the player plays the game. But it’s also the case that there isn’t always a clear better option, and so the player, just like Sean, has to make what they hope will end up being the best decision when given options that might all seem like not great choices.
The linear story that this game is telling is one that I was totally engrossed in.
Speaking of player decisions, it’s worth noting that this episode seemed to present the player with less choices than fans of these types of narrative adventures may expect. There are several scenes that just play out on their own, or ones where the player only makes one or two dialogue choices. All in all, this episode feels a lot more linear, and not as divergent, as fans of the Life is Strange series may be used to. Even when the player is presented with different options, a lot of them feel like they probably won’t affect the overall narrative a whole lot. A very common criticism of narrative adventure games is that player choices don’t really matter, since the narratives of the games are scripted to play out a certain way regardless of the choices the player makes. Despite this, there are many narrative adventure games that are great at making the player feel like they’re making meaningful decisions, even if the outcome will ultimately be the same. But in this first episode of Life is Strange 2, you will likely often feel like your choices won’t make a huge difference in the narrative, even as you’re making them.
However, I’m kind of willing to overlook this for a couple of reasons. For one thing, this is just the first episode of the season. It seems pretty likely to me that this episode was largely appointed with setting everything up, and that more divergent storylines will start to take precedence as the season continues. The bigger reason is that I feel like a lot of the smaller, more insignificant-seeming choices will end up building up and making a much bigger impact later on. A huge part of this season is how the player’s choices will impact Daniel. Everything Sean does and says affects how Daniel will think about his brother, as well as the world at large. While looking over the choice statistics at the end of the episode, I saw that there are different ways that Daniel can end up acting on his own depending on what choices the player made. While there weren’t that many actions Daniel could independently partake of in this episode, I can see this part of the game taking on greater importance in later episodes, and I’m very excited to see how this role model mechanic plays out in the rest of the season.
But despite the fact that this episode felt more linear and less choice-driven than many other narrative adventure games, I personally didn’t mind very much because the linear story that this game is telling is one that I was totally engrossed in. In true Life is Strange fashion, the story of Sean and Daniel is a very emotional and politically-charged one that many people are bound to be able to relate to in some way or another. Sean may not be the perfect older brother and Daniel may not be the perfect younger brother, but this more realistic depiction of brothers is the kind of relationship that makes the series great. In particular, there’s a scene near the end of the episode that is very likely to get you at least a little choked up. Plus, the various characters that they meet on their journey provide for some interesting interactions that are sure to keep the player invested.
The last thing I want to discuss is this season’s use of a supernatural power. Another thing that I loved about the first Life is Strange is that Max’s Rewind power wasn’t just a narrative device, but was an interesting mechanical device that turned the narrative adventure formula on its head. The new power in this season doesn’t act in nearly the same way, and doesn’t even make many appearances in this first episode. However, without spoiling anything, I can see potential for this power to work in some very interesting ways later in the season, so I think I’ll have to wait and see how it fully manifests itself before judging it one way or the other.
Life is Strange 2 is certainly off to a great start. There are aspects that can definitely use some more fleshing out in future episodes, but the new season feels like it’s on its way to potentially achieving the same level of greatness as its predecessor.
- This article was updated on September 28th, 2018