With the release of the fifth episode, Life is Strange 2 has come to a conclusion. It’s been a long journey full of ups and downs, but overall, it’s a tale of brotherhood in all the best ways. Dontnod Entertainment has taken their time to tell a story that can truly resonate with the heart. Whether it’s the bond shared between two brothers, or the hardships faced with being a person of color in the United States, this is a story that is both relatable and enlightening. With the entire season available for all players, how does it all stack together? Due to the game being a narrative driven title, there may be minor spoilers, so reader discretion is advised.
The story of Life is Strange 2 is best described as an expedition. Players will take control of Sean Diaz, a Mexican high school student that lives a typical teenage life. Of course, it wouldn’t be a Life is Strange title if life stayed normal. After an altercation involving his little brother, Daniel, and a racist neighbor, things only escalate further when a power awakens inside Daniel, unleashing itself for the first time. Next thing Sean knows, a police officer is dead, and only he knows why. In a panic, he escapes with his brother, doing what he feels is right to protect him. How he does this is all up to the player, and it will be their decisions that determine the outcome of this journey.
Life is Strange 2 takes a huge departure from the previous title, which helps to make it a fresh experience. Instead of taking place over the course of a few days, this story is told over roughly a year’s duration. In the original title, players would play as Max, a teenage girl with the sudden power to rewind time. With Life is Strange 2, Daniel is the one with the powers, leaving Sean to be a more indirect influence. Being able to rewind time gave players the opportunity to reverse a decision, which was groundbreaking for the time. Now, decisions will directly influence the impressionable Daniel, determining how he will use his powers. It’s a matter of picking between right, wrong, and more often, that gray area in-between.
It honestly feels great to be the one that Daniel looks up to. Making a decision and seeing just how Daniel applies his lessons is fairly rewarding. Of course, I prefer to have Daniel be an upstanding citizen that uses his powers for good. Regardless, the game tests your patience and tolerance, trying to make the darker side much more tantalizing. This often involves dealing with bigotry, which is a very real issue in America. It’s a sad truth that Life is Strange 2 has no problem bringing light to, and it’s very commendable. It often makes the player ask themselves what they would do if they had all the power in a situation. Do they use it to enforce? Or do they use it responsibly, holding back to be the bigger man?
Aside from making decisions during key moments in dialogue, the game will play like your typical point-and-click adventure. Players will control Sean in various settings, all of which will vary drastically between episodes. There will be moments where players will have to direct Daniel to control his powers, but otherwise, the game will play much like the first one. It’s a game that anyone is capable of playing, with no real skill requirement whatsoever. This makes it easy to sit back and simply enjoy the story, as emotionally gut-wrenching as it can be sometimes.
One of the best things about a Life is Strange game is the relatable characters met throughout the story. The sequel is no different, though it takes it to the next level. As Sean and Daniel continue to move from place to place, they leave old friends behind and meet new ones. A lot of times, those old friends will still keep in contact with them, though they keep it discreet. The writing really makes these characters effective, as they may provide a revelation powerful enough to provide perspective to the player. It’s a real shame that many of these characters only show up in one episode, but that’s clearly intentional. Sean doesn’t want to keep everyone involved, as the longer they are, the higher the risk is for them.
Aside from the writing, these characters have excellent actors to represent their voices. All the characters feel realistic, sounding more like regular everyday conversation than dialogue in a script. The performances from Gonzalo Martin and Roman Dean George, playing Sean and Daniel respectively, come off genuine and delightful. Many of the other voice actors do well to capture the essence of their characters too. The various friends and allies along the way give off a lovable charm while the foes create a perfect counterpoint. Fans of the original will even come across a familiar face, though the sequel may give a fresh new outlook to their character.
Presentation is a key part of the Life is Strange series, and the sequel is no exception. The game takes a stylish approach in the visual department, using a fantastic minimalist art direction. It often mixes 3D and 2D mediums to blend into one aesthetic, making the series feel unique from others. Add in some excellent cinematography and visually pleasing camera techniques, and you can’t help but admire the look of the game. The character animation seems to be mostly improved from the previous game too, with a few exceptions. For example, in the fifth episode, there was a moment where the animation felt like it was on fast-forward. There are other examples, but that was one of the bigger offenders.
Between each episode, players are also treated to a visually pleasing recap. Using a black and white animation, Sean narrates what would essentially be the story of the “Wolf Brothers”. It’s a beautiful metaphor that perfectly presents the spirit of the story. It will also often fill in the gaps between episodes, as several weeks often pass by. The wolf theme has a place throughout the entire plot, even going as far as having the Diaz brothers howl on occasion. It really creates a different level of presentation when you compare it to the original game. Not only is it different, but it feels like a big improvement overall.
Moving onto the music, the original soundtrack is fitting to the tones of every scene. It feels upbeat and delightful during happier moments, but it gets tense and erratic when things go south. There will even be moments of silence to let the dialogue take center stage during key moments. Of course, there are also the relaxing times, as players can often find a place for Sean to sit as a song begins to play. In fact, all the vocal tracks use indie songs that really put a spotlight on some lesser known artists. Their music is often soothing and really creates a mellow vibe. Unfortunately, the final episode seems to lack this touch, but after four other episodes with it, it’s a minor issue.
Of the five episodes, the majority are fairly strong, with the highest points at the beginning and toward the end. The third episode seems to take a few steps back unfortunately, causing repetition in the scenery and the introduction of too many new characters. It does have some vital moments in the overall plot, but it’s easily the low point of the season. Luckily, the rest of the episodes are solid enough to lift up the overall experience. Each episode will also have several different outcomes depending on the choices of the player. These decisions will determine the course of the story overall and ultimately bring about an ending that brings it all together. Whether that ending will be a rewarding one or not is based entirely on the player.
While the general story is good, there are a few moments where it feels like the writers take cheap shots. There are some unwarranted points in the plot where characters may meet an untimely end. At least one of them can’t be avoided, no matter how hard you try. It comes as no surprise, sure, but it doesn’t make it any less difficult to accept. There’s also a character that feels like he shifts personalities too quickly. It feels out of place and hurts the overall impact of their interaction. At least the writing does well with other moments, like exploring sexuality and expressing acceptance of people of all ways of life. They handle the dialogue in such a careful way that you can’t help but respect the effort.
Overall, it should be known that Life is Strange 2 is an achievement in narrative storytelling in video games. It’s an eye-opening story of two brothers that have everything thrown at them, yet they continue to persevere. The game pulls at your heartstrings and also brings about real joy in various moments. To see this emotional journey and the way these characters develop is a real treat, and though there are a few low points, the game pushes through proudly to its high points. Not only does this entry feel more relevant than the previous game, but depending on the player, it can leave a much bigger impression. This is especially the case for those with siblings. For those looking for a game with a good story, look no further.
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