Life is Strange garnered a devout fan-following during its first season in part due to its characters, which is why it was such a shock that developer Dontnod chose to forego a direct sequel and instead opted to turn the franchise into an anthology of sorts. This decision was a point of contention within the community, but as Dontnod proved once again in the first episode of Life is Strange 2, the studio is in top form when it's allowed to spread its wings.
A brothers' journey
Life is Strange introduced us to the quiet coastal town of Arcadia Bay along with some of its most memorable residents that wormed their ways into our hearts. Life is Strange 2 doesn't feature such a huge cast this time around, at least so far, and this helps keep the narrative more intimate. Though Max and Chloe's bond was an integral part of the first season, we also got a deeper look into the struggles that other characters were facing as well. In Life is Strange 2, brothers Sean and Daniel are really taking center stage. This is truly their story, for better or worse.
Within the opening minutes, Life is Strange 2 exudes a warmth and comfort that most video games don't. Sean, our playable character, discusses girl problems with his friend Lyla, you settle a debate on who eats the last Choc-O-Crisp between Daniel or your father, you pack for a party. It's a typical night for your average teenager. This atmosphere quickly shatters once Sean and Daniel are forced on the run after a deadly confrontation with police that sees their father lose his life.
Sean's actions and dialogue are incredibly human.
Being forced into the role of caretaker, Sean's actions and dialogue are incredibly human. As overwhelming as the situation is for a 16-year-old, he realizes that it must be doubly so for Daniel at age 9, especially because Daniel cannot remember the incident. Under the guise of going on a camping trip, Sean leads Daniel south, away from their home of Seattle. You can imagine the stress and confusion this road trip would put on a young child. Daniel grows irritated; he's tired, hungry, his feet hurt from walking – and Sean responds as an older brother would: with mild exasperation. Their interactions feel natural as Sean learns how to balance his previous role of "cool older brother" and his desire to protect Daniel from any harm.
Tackling social issues
The aforementioned confrontation with the police in Seattle is what sets off the events of Life is Strange 2, and shows that Dontnod isn't afraid to tackle serious social issues, and it does so with deft. While the first season featured heavy themes like suicide and drug use, this season looks to focus on racism, notably how it is currently affecting the political and social climate in the United States.
Dontnod isn't afraid to tackle serious social issues, and it does so with deft.
One trigger-happy officer is all it takes for Sean and Daniel's life to be turned upside down. This is a clear parallel to the ongoing conversations in the US surrounding police brutality. Instead of glossing over the structural racism, Dontnod plays into it. You find a note written from your neighbor about how "he knows (his) rights as a US citizen," but maybe Sean's father doesn't. Sean and Lyla text each other ahead of the November 2016 presidential election about their fears. There's even a more prominent scene between Sean and a man looking to turn him in where the man mentions that people like Sean are the reason the US should build a wall along its border with Mexico. Dontnod isn't going for subtlety, but doesn't exactly hit you over the head either.
It's a bit too early to tell how Dontnod will handle this theme going forward with the rest of Life is Strange 2, but so far the studio is on course and in the position to make some powerful statements should they choose to.
The Force is with Daniel
While Max's ability to rewind time was something that we got to play around with in the first season, we don't get a good taste of this season's supernatural power. Sean isn't the one with the ability, it's Daniel, and so far the first episode has only given us the chance to control Sean as a playable character. Because of this I feel that this ability, which appears to be some sort of telekinesis, is greatly underused. In interacting with Max's ability we could get a deeper look into how the gameplay tied into the first season's narrative. There's only one instance in Life is Strange 2's first episode where we can make a decision directly resulting from the inadvertent use of Daniel's power.
The post-credits scene gives us a glimpse at how we'll be able to utilize this ability in the future, but so far we've only received a few scenes in which Daniel goes full on Eleven from Stranger Things. It's not something that he can control like Max could with time to a certain extent. This is something that Sean and Daniel will have to work on as they journey south, and it looks like Daniel could be in for a little Jedi training.
A big complaint from Life is Strange was how the language that its teen characters used wasn't how teens talk in real life, it was more like how adults imagine teens talk stereotypically. This complaint ended up turning into an affectionate quirk of the series, and it's returned to Life is Strange 2 to a lesser extent.
Whether you love it or hate it, there are times when this language can pull you out of a scene. Despite this, most of the conversations in Life is Strange 2 feel natural and not as if they're forced dialogue options that Dontnod threw in to give it more content. When you're talking to Sean's dad, it feels like a real conversation between a father and son. Likewise goes for conversations with Daniel or Lyla. Sean's responses and characterization are easily a highlight of episode one.
Life is Strange 2 is off to a good, if a little slow, start. I wish that the supernatural ability had been used or explained more, but Dontnod still has the rest of the season to cash in on its potential. What's most important is that Dontnod created another compelling story that makes us care deeply about the characters involved. Life is Strange left big shoes to fill, and doing so with new characters was a difficult task to take on. So far, Dontnod has proved that the whole team is capable of rising to the challenge.
- Deftly tackles current social injustices racism
- Sean and Daniel's relationship
- Conversations feel natural and not forced
- Cringy stereotypical "teen" language at times
- Supernatural ability was underused
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