Review by Lindsay M.
I’ve re-written this paragraph about a dozen times, each one ending with Command + A + delete. I don’t know if there is a “right” way to talk about Life Is Strange 2, but I feel a heavy burden to do so regardless. The original Life Is Strange was a strange, startling surprise experience for me, as I stumbled upon it just prior to the fourth episode’s launch and immediately immersed myself in the world of Max in Arcadia Bay. But for the sequel, it’s different. I’ve followed its development quite closely and as a result, little seems to come as a surprise.
By the time I was done with Episode 1 (Roads), I was still left mostly unsurprised. But that was a good thing. Life Is Strange 2 feels warm, inviting, and familiar, in large part to its music again being scored by Jonathan Morali (the frontman of Syd Matters, a French band that I adore). Not once did I compare it to the original, whether it was the setting, the characters, the narrative. It is not only a separate entity in name, but also in content. It can stand on its own. But that being said, it is only the first of five episodes, and the skeptic in me worries this high will fade as they continue.
Thematically, the topics covered are quite universal; love, loss, generosity, morality, and honesty remain common threads between characters. More newsworthy issues are also explored, as there is a taste of police brutality and more than a little racism along the way.
Life Is Strange 2 follows brothers Sean and Daniel Diaz. Sean is in his mid-teens and Daniel is still a child at the age of nine. They live with their father, a hard-working auto mechanic who immigrated to Seattle from Mexico. It’s three days before Halloween, and Sean is preparing to head to a party with his best friend Lyla (who is absolutely adorable). Collecting items he needs is like an in-game tutorial, and as his excitement builds mine does too. It’s going to be a great party: I’ve got my blanket, I’ve got my beer, and I’ve got my condoms. I’m set! But I was supposed to be keeping an eye on Danny… where did he get off too?
In the first teaser trailer for the game, we’re shown police car camera footage of an officer who stops his car for something, gets out, and a few seconds later it’s as though a small tornado has passed by. In the game, we see this event from the other side, and learn why the brothers need to hide and head south. A pivotal plot moment, the scene does feel to go by in the blink of an eye — although that’s life, isn’t it?
The relationship between elder and younger brother is the forefront of the narrative, as Sean needs to be both a sibling and a parents as they are on the run. It’s up to him to teach Daniel right from wrong, and when you’re on the lam those lines become blurry very quickly. Even if you consider an event in passing, Daniel may have learned something whether you like it or not. It’s also difficult to balance the seriousness of what’s happening with fun and curiosity, and there is a scene with the brothers exploring next to a river that gives everyone a reprieve from anxiety and the brothers time to play like children for a little bit. It’s just beautiful and heartwarming to see kids being kids for a few seconds.
If you’ll recall from Life Is Strange, antagonist Max is a blossoming photographer and she collects polaroids throughout her adventure. For Life Is Strange 2, photography becomes sketching. In addition to being on the track team, Sean is actually a rather talented artist. When time and place permits, he can sit and observe the scene in front of him before looking down to his notebook and sketching what he sees. He even has the opportunity to look back up and refine his drawing. These are lovely moments, and directly incorporated into the diary, yet for some reason I do feel a slight distance from the sketches. However, that may just be because I am a trained photographer so it was easier to relate to Max’s candid snaps versus Sean’s longer sessions.
Max could turn back time, so who has what superpower in Life Is Strange 2? I’m absolutely keeping my lips sealed on that one, but I will hint that it’s one of my favourites (I think).
The game’s flow and pacing has been well-planned, and no part seems slow. You are given the opportunity to progress at your own pace as Sean can sometimes sit and think, but the most memorable cerebral moments are the times the camera pans out and everything falls quiet. These are placed throughout exploration and conversation. They are moments of reflection upon what just happened, and place perfectly as punctuation in the narrative.
What may have surprised me the most about the experience of Life Is Strange 2 is the need I felt for connection in the game. Sean and Daniel are on the run on their own, and all I wanted was a mama bear to find them and bring them to her cave. No such luck, but at their worst the brothers do meet someone who reminds us all that there is good in the world. It was an especially poignant moment as it is the direct result of racial profiling.
The first episode of Life Is Strange 2 is darned-near perfect, perhaps as close as it can come. I was concerned that I wouldn’t connect to the title, as I don’t exactly have a picture-perfect relationship with my sibling(s), who are all women. And from there, I’ve learned that brothers can have a very… interesting… relationship compared to sisters. But Sean and Daniel are very relatable, smart, and quirky.
Another concern? The sequel can’t hold a candle to the original. But first episode compared to first episode, they are very much on par with each other. Each has a character with a supernatural power that shows up in a time of immense stress. Each deals with extremely heavy topics. The first included issues such as date rape, slut shaming, and suicide. The second focuses on other important contemporary issues, including racism and police brutality. Max and Chloe were like sisters; Sean and Daniel are literally brothers, but therein lies the difference as one is much older than the other and in a position of power.
I’m sorry for comparing the two titles so often, but I’m sure I wasn’t alone in my hesitancy that Dontnod could recreate the magic of the first. However, just one episode in, I’m certain that magic has returned, both familiar and different in the best way. The characters are relatable, the issues are widespread, and the story is riveting. Don’t miss out.
– Lindsay M.