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.