Life Is Strange 2 as a whole has been designed around the notion of a road trip, but it’s a journey that’s borne out of a sudden tragedy. We’re introduced to Sean on what feels like any other day, as he steps off the school bus with his best friend Lyla, chatting about the halloween party that night, figuring out how to get cash, drink, weed and food for a trip up to a cabin, and with Lyla doing her best to help Sean pull that night – he is, in Lyla’s immortal words, “a thirsty bitch.”
Please note, there are some light spoilers for the first episode beyond this point.
However, instead of a fun, lighthearted evening of drink and teenage romance, Sean’s party planning at home is thrown into disarray when he rushes to his younger brother Daniel’s defence, who’s squabbling with the thuggish neighbouring teen. It gets messy fast and, through a surprisingly easy to make misunderstanding, a jumpy police officer pulls a gun. With Sean and Daniel the sons of Mexican immigrants, I’m sure you can guess where this is going.
The entire premise of Life Is Strange 2 hinges on a thoroughly contemporary social commentary, which is played heavily throughout the first episode and will certainly be a running theme through the season. You see the papers and rolling news in the background, telling of protests in the wake of the shooting, you meet people that will hurl some surprising racial epithets at the pair, you meet others that are willing to believe, get your side of the story and try to help. These characters can surprise you despite their initial appearances, as much as they provide a source of peril for two fugitives.
However, the more overwhelming feeling through this episode is one of isolation. Sean and Daniel have a fairly typical brotherly relationship, with nine-year-old Daniel driving sixteen-year-old Sean up the wall when at home, and Sean preemptively overreacting in certain cases. That continues when they’re on the run, but you can see the weight of responsibility resting heavily on Sean’s shoulders. Where he can still be short with Daniel, you clearly see the times where he realises he needs to be the grown up and look after his brother.
There’s really nice moments of bonding where Sean can try to teach Daniel something, such as what trail blaze markings are in the forest or how to skip stones across water. Yet there’s still more than a few opportunities to mess with him, choosing whether to tell him scary stories while camping out in the forest or reassure him. You’ll see these possible moments of interaction outlined in blue as you play the game, some of which come of your own volition and others coming as Daniel explores the environment himself and calls them out to you. He’s naive sometimes, easily scared at others, and often playful.
It’s a charming and real feeling relationship, and it’s one that you can shape as you play. Daniel will learn from your actions and choices, taking after you later in the story, so if your desperation leads you to steal, Daniel won’t hesitate to take after you. It’s telling how important it will be when your decisions as Sean are presented at the end of the game alongside what Daniel learnt throughout. With Daniel’s growth in mind, how moralistic are you going to be in the face of running out of food? Being caught by the cops? Or worse?
Life Is Strange 2’s game engine has had a serious upgrade in the jump from Unity to Unreal Engine 4, with lighting effects dramatically improved even as Dontnod keep a similar look and feel to the first game. There’s also been an appreciable step up in quality for the motion and facial animation capture, even if some characters still have rather blank, emotionless looks.
Importantly, it gets the tone just right, with the same slow, languid style and cinematography, the same emphasis on human bonds and family, and a soundtrack from the same composers as the first series. For fans of the first season, there’s just a handful of nice little references back to that game and the world it created.
Following on from Max and Chloe’s time-twisting adventure was always going to be a tricky task, but Dontnod have pulled it off with aplomb in Life Is Strange 2’s first episode. Sean and Daniel’s relationship, the tragedy that sends them on the run, the contrasting people that they meet and the supernatural twists on a modern day drama all come together in wonderful fashion.
Version tested: PC – Also available on PS4 & Xbox One