Life Is Strange 2 is profoundly political, but that shouldn’t be a surprise. This is a tale about two Latino boys travelling across Trump’s America, and it plays out more or less exactly as you’d expect it to. The story’s much more grounded in reality than the original series ever was, and that means that it’s filled to the figurative brim with pop culture references, from Minecraft through to The Last of Us. It also means that the United States – well, they aren’t exactly united right now, are they?
Episode 1: Roads starts out with typical teenage angst, but it evolves into something so much more. Sean Diaz, the protagonist, is 16-years-old and just wants to score. His younger sibling Daniel is nine-years-old, and he fits the “irritating brat brother” archetype well. Both find their lives turned upside down early on, as a misunderstanding sends them both on the run. We don’t want to give away too much, but it hits frighteningly close to home.
From there, it’s just you and your brother traipsing the West Coast, from Seattle to Oregon in this particular instalment. The visuals naturally don’t feature the kind of photorealism that you’d expect from a blockbuster AAA game, but they’re densely detailed and reveal a lot about the characters. You can learn, for example, by exploring the Diaz abode that Sean is a runner, an artist, and works at the local 7-Eleven. It’s optional context, but unfurling it is part of the series’ appeal.
This is a different kind of Life Is Strange, though: larger in scope and less black-and-white. Everything you do will directly influence your younger sibling, so stealing a tent and some chocolate will prompt him to pick up bad habits as a result. It’s subtly handled, but we like that about it; there are the warning signs in this episode that your actions are going to come full circle, but what kind of person exactly do you want your brother to become?
The original game focused on a specific selection of backdrops, but you’re constantly on the move here, meaning that the window dressing changes along with you. As you journey from the wilderness to an old gas station to a rundown motel you really do get the sense that you’re on a voyage, and we assume future episodes are going to go through the likes of California, Nevada, Utah, Colorado, and eventually into Mexico. With the seasons changing, DONTNOD’s art department is going to have a lot of fun.
Our only concern at this stage is how the supporting cast will be handled. The Diaz brothers happen upon one friend in Episode 1 who helps them along the way, but it’ll be interesting to see whether he pops up again. To be fair, the developer very quickly establishes him, so we’ll be perfectly content with a rotating cast of characters, each state bringing with it new faces to challenge the personalities of the brothers at the centre of the storyline.
Because make no mistake, this is a story about siblings. It’s been done before, and we’ve seen the same kind of paternal relationships in series like The Walking Dead and The Last of Us – but there’s something distinctly different about Life Is Strange’s approach. Only in this series can you have two brothers bouncing around on a bed, playing air guitar to Bloc Party while you shake the camera with the analogue sticks. It’s nostalgic, even if it still dabbles in the paranormal at times.
Life Is Strange 2: Episode 1 – Roads has the same je ne sais quoi as its predecessor, but it’s a different kind of game. This isn’t a series about teenage angst anymore – it’s about survival in a contemporary United States that’s more hostile than it’d like to think it is. Larger, more detailed environments and inconclusive moral decisions that have a direct influence on key cast members make for an impressive, brave opening.
It looks good but after Telltale's downfall, I won't buy these episodic games until they're complete.
I'll wait for the inevitable complete season package, although I thought Life is Strange was hella cool.
I like this more than original so far.
This is definitely on my radar.
Haven't played yet but I did watch the opening bits from a Eurogamer playthrough and it seems great, at least early on.
Can't wait to get stuck into this one properly although I still want to go back and finish replaying the first one before I jump into this series.
Glad to hear you enjoyed it as well, Sammy.
@get2sammyb Excellent review, thanks for this. My best friend is playing it this weekend and I'll add her thoughts to yours before making a decision.
My primary concern is that I won't be able to relate to the Diaz brothers in any way. My love of the previous games hinged on the parts of Max and Chloe I could sympathise with; they were incredibly tiny, but they were there, and they were enough. So far, I've seen nothing which makes me feel the same about Sean and Daniel, but I'm hoping to be surprised.
Also interested that you picked up on concerns over the supporting cast; I'd had the same thought, that unless the Diaz brothers are some kind of "character Katamari" then a journey across the United States will leave behind everybody they meet after each episode. I'm also curious as to how Chris from Captain Spirit will be integrated, because the ending of that game specifically said "see more of Chris in Life is Strange 2" (or words to that effect).
Overall, I think I'm just glad to hear it's as different as it is. Simply replicating the first game with different characters in a new setting would've been a mistake.
@RogerRoger I thought the same about the brothers but I think they end up being relatable in lots of ways actually.
@get2sammyb That's good to know. Now I've got even less excuses to not play it, so thanks!
This review totally convinced me. Great write-up!
I'll wait until this one pops up on PS Plus. I liked the first game a lot, but I wouldn't really call myself a fan of DONTNOD or LiS. I gave em a chance with Vampyr and that game really let me down.
Sold. I love a bit of Bloc Party.
The main characters are not Chloe and Max, I am not interested.
@Adam47 I mean, you didn't know who Max and Chloe were once upon a time.
While I really did enjoy the first game, the first sentence of this review that states that the game is "profoundly political" has turned me off to getting this completely.
I'll be waiting for either a Complete Edition or a deep discount during BF/Holidays probably...
@JoeBlogs It's not back. Different characters, different abilities.
@get2sammyb I dislike politics in general. It divides people so much, and all too often I see folks go out of their way to berate someone for as long as they can just for having a difference of opinionand are unwilling to just agree to disagree. Media, in my experience, has been extremely heavy-handed in trying to force the creators' political views down peoples' throats, and it annoys the crap out of me.
If others like the game even with those kind of overtones then more power to them, but this doesn't look like something I would personally enjoy.
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