Life Is Strange 2 opens with the same kind of everyday teen drama as the first. It’s just another school day as Sean steps off the bus home with his friend jibing him about his abject lack of hope in getting lucky at the Halloween party that night. It’s a good thing she can help him out, because this “thirsty ass bitch” has clearly got no game…
Fair warning, you can expect some spoilers from beyond this point.
Right off the bat, you can see the improvement in the game engine and the quality of what Dontnod are feeding into it. They’ve shifted to Unreal Engine 4, just as the prequel Before the Storm, but they’ve used this to add extra shaders and better lighting while retaining the same feel of the original. More importantly, the animation of the characters is just so much better and more fluid across the board, to the extent that there was even a rather believable looking hug as Sean and Lyla said goodbye. Facial animation for the main characters has also improved, but as Sean tries to convince his dad into giving him some cash for the party, you see the cold, dead eyes of video games, even as he delivers some nice fatherly lines of dialogue.
The game’s set in October 2016 – does this predate “thirstiness” as a term? I don’t know, but Sean and Lyla using Skype is definitely more 2006 than 2016. Even so, it’s a nice moment as they chat over a video call and Sean can interact with things on his desk. Again, there’s an added fluidity to how the game feels.
Of course, nothing stays peaceful, and we’re soon thrust into the fears and dangers of modern day America. It’s all too chilling when a cop car pulls up after Sean gets into a fight with the neighbouring white kid over Daniel splashing him with his homemade fake blood – it’s Halloween after all. Sean wins the fight pretty damn convincingly, leaving the other kid lying out cold on the floor, but that’s obviously not what the officer sees. He sees two kids of Mexican heritage over a white kid covered in blood. He draws his gun.
It quickly goes from bad to worse and a moment of fear, shock and pain lead to supernatural power tearing through the block, wrecking nearby buildings, sending the cop and his car flying in the process. As the sirens wail in the background, Daniel picks up his unconscious brother, grabs his backpack with party supplies and they go on the run.
As an opening moment, it clearly puts this game on a very different footing to the original. The series’ five episodes will see Sean and Daniel trekking down the West Coast of America, trying to reach the border and escape to Mexico. There’s set to be moments of loneliness and despair, of desperation to simply survive on the $40 and four cans of beer in Sean’s backpack, or wariness and danger as the pair meet others on their path. It’s a road trip journey, where each episode should take the kids to new locations, to meet new people and new situations.
Life Is Strange 2 tries to put the kind of parent and child relationship that has appeared on a number of occasions in a different light. Daniel obviously looks up to Sean, but it’s as a sibling rather than a parent. It’s not necessarily about doing what he’s told, but also in how younger brothers will often try to copy and mimic their elder siblings.
The second section of the game shown to us featured the pair trekking through the forest and coming to a camping ground, and as you now explore the world you’ll see items highlighted with a blue outlined marker to indicate that this is something you can interact with Daniel over. It could be a map of the area or Blaze Trail markings on trees, and these interactions can often teach Daniel new tricks. He adapts to what you find in the world and show to him.
However, Daniel’s not just following a rote path in your wake, but exploring the world on his own. He’s been given AI that will wander around and look at things, perhaps calling them out to Sean. One example is some berries on a bush, which you can tell him are fine, try for yourself, or tell him to avoid. Another more scripted moment sees them come upon a car with a choco crisp bar on the dashboard and a window that’s slightly ajar. They’ve barely had any food in the two days since the incident, they’re tired, they’re hungry. Do you steal the bar and potentially teach Daniel that stealing is OK “if nobody will miss it”? He’ll learn and potentially replicate those actions down the line.
Daniel’s presence puts a new spin on certain other elements of the game, like how the traditional sit down and think moments can suddenly be interrupted when he sits down next to Sean and starts commenting on how pretty the view is.
It’s an unexpected twist that puts Life Is Strange’s traditionally teen drama into a new light. Now there’s responsibility for the actions you take, repercussions on a more personal level than before, and it’s going to be fascinating to see Dontnod tackle something that’s incredibly difficult to pull off.