Life is Strange 2 is the latest episodic offering from the masters of storytelling over at Dontnod Entertainment. When the original game was released back in 2015 it wasn’t something that instantly drew my attention. Over the course of a nine-month period, the development team released a total of five episodes, with each instalment bettering the last. It became apparent that the Dontnod had hit on something special with its story centred around 18-year-old photography student Max Caulfield who discovers she has the ability to rewind time. A prequel mini-series was subsequently released in 2017 to help fill in the story of series favourite Chloe Price. With the critical success that followed, winning no less than twenty awards, it was inevitable that we would be delving back into the amazing world for future stories.
Life is Strange 2 was confirmed and teased, we knew it was coming but little concrete information was being given. Junes E3 2018 gave us a taste of what to expect in the form of The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit a single episode experience that released after the event as a free download. Set three years after the events of the original and introduces Chris a young boy who creates a superhero alter ego, as we all have done. Decisions made here have consequences that can be felt in Life is Strange 2.
September 2018 and the wait is finally over, episode one is available to download for Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One. Mobile versions are due for release at a later date and I’m holding out hope for a Switch release at some point also but I say that about pretty much any new game within reason. Planned for another five episodes this is going to be a hard slog between releases, I want to play it in one go but then we have been spoilt by the likes of Netflix allowing us to binge watch complete series one after another.
The story starts in the city of Seattle following Sean Diaz, and his younger brother Daniel, who live at home with their mechanic father Esteban. Sean is a typical teenager focused on friends, girls and partying but this all changes as he and his brother are forced to go on the run. Daniel is the usual annoying little brother who is innocent yet craves attention, looking up to his bigger brother as his role model. In the traumatic opening sequence, Dontnod Entertainment set the tone – already masters of shocks and cliffhangers this time they go straight for the jugular. What transpires is no a secret but I’ll let you play it out for yourself. This episode titled ‘Roads’ introduces us to the boys emotionally and has been structured to feel like a classic road movie as we experience the highs but mostly lows on their journey to Mexico. The dynamic between the two is what really helps engage and draw the player in and made me feel like I had a vested interest in their every move.
The game sticks to the tried and tested third-person point of view and is steeped in the graphic adventure genre reminiscent of a classic point and click. The main gameplay element is slow relying a great deal on storytelling, think of it more as an interactive movie with simple gameplay mechanics stitching the whole package together. This isn’t a negative but will limit its mainstream appeal. Exploration, finding and collecting items while solving simple puzzles help the story progress. The use of a backpack inventory system helps to keep track of key items, progress and current objectives so is a welcomed addition. Sean also carries a sketchbook with him which can be used at specific points to create quick masterpieces in a fun mini-game.
Along the journey you must interact with the environment and characters you meet, it becomes unnervingly tense when you have to make a snap decision that will have a lasting consequence. I often panicked and mashed the button only to regret my choice a split second later. Life on the road is tough with Sean coming to terms in the fact that he is now totally responsible for his younger brother. Early on I had the option to steal a chocolate bar from a parked car, I knew it was wrong but Daniel was exhausted and hungry – its this sort of moral decisions that help to shape the story.
A staple in the series is the ability to take a step back and just sit for a while taking in the surroundings which is backed up by another excellent soundtrack, Dontnod always has this side of things nailed and Life is Strange 2 hasn’t disappointed so far. Visually it has improved over the original opting to use the Unreal 4 engine and while it isn’t ever going to be remembered as the most technically advanced offering it can be absolutely beautiful in places. Character models are believable with a stylised appearance and the background textures are rich bringing the world to life.
Life is Strange is brave, ambitious, covering serious and often controversial issues with this episode being no different. I was wary at first with the introduction of completely new characters having loved Max so much but this was soon overcome because of the care and attention to detail Dontnod have put into realising Sean and Daniel. I will be writing a short article for each of the five episodes as they release, a tracker for the experiences and emotions felt while playing. Once the story is complete I then plan to give an update about the events as a whole ranking it using our standard scoring system. Roads is the perfect introduction to our new characters, the story has great direction and potential which is matched by emotional and believable writing. I personally cannot wait to see how this unique adventure unfolds for Sean and Daniel.