by Emily Worrell
Disclaimer: This review is based on the PC version of the game and was played on a PC with Intel Core i5-8250U, 8 GBs of RAM.
As an avid fan of Life is Strange, I was surprisingly nervous to pick up the sequel. I wanted to be enthralled and drawn in the way I was with the first game, and was terrified that the sequel would be a half-hearted attempt to recreate everything that the first one had done so wonderfully. However, Life is Strange 2 delivers for fans of the series and welcomes them back into the Life is Strange universe without becoming a recreation of the first game.
Bringing Max and Chloe’s world back to life with new characters
The first point that must be brought up with this game is that Life is Strange 2 is really a misnomer. This game is not a direct sequel relating to the first game; it features an entirely new plotline following the story of new characters Sean and Daniel, two brothers who are forced to flee their home when their dad is shot and killed by a police officer who dies in a sudden explosion directly following the shooting. The developers attempt a tie-in by having the player reveal before starting the game what choice they made at a pivotal moment in the first one; however, whatever the player selects only briefly affects one cutscene. Fans who get this game looking for a follow-up to Max and Chloe’s story will be disappointed. Life is Strange 2 is more of a new story set in the same universe than a true sequel.
However, the developers do a wonderful job of making players feel as if they have been dropped right back in to the ‘Life is Strange’ universe. The graphics and mellow indie soundtrack instantly inform the player, “Oh, this is a DONTNOD game.” The cinematic way the game’s visuals are created also reminds players that this is Chloe and Max’s universe, and they are home once again.
For any Life is Strange fan, re-entering this universe feels like coming home because Chloe and Max feel like home. The first game crafted these characters so well that the player has come to trust and believe in them to the point where they feel like close family or friends. Needless to say, this means that Life is Strange 2 had a lot to live up to on the grounds of character development. Seeing new characters in the world of Max and Chloe was perhaps what made fans the most anxious about this sequel. However, Life is Strange 2 surpasses expectations in this element and created amazing characters that are easy to get attached to. Players get to experience realistic family and friend relationships that make the tragic storyline even more heart-wrenching. They also see both the positive and negative aspects of these new characters, making them believably flawed and intriguing to learn more about. These well-crafted characters are supported by a strong cast of voice actors who really bring them to life and make them feel “real” to the player.
Simple gameplay and controls allow for focus on story
Like other DONTNOD games, Life is Strange 2 resembles an interactive movie in terms of actual gameplay mechanics, much like Until Dawn or Detroit: Become Human. It is very easy to pick up and offers little challenge in control. The use of the mouse was moderately altered from the original game in a way that ultimately seemed unnecessary (scrolling through answer choices rather than clicking and dragging to select them), but it was a minor adjustment to make and did not distract too much from the gameplay or following the story.
One problem with narrative-driven but mechanically simple games that Life is Strange 2 avoids is that the ease of gameplay often makes it difficult to build suspense or give the player a large sense of responsibility. Suspense is very well-built in the more tense moments of the game using the element of time; the script is structured in a way that implies the player only has a certain amount of time to solve a problem or they will ultimately fail. Additionally, the choice-based narrative and symbolic reminders of consequences that appear on-screen give players constant reminders of the responsibility and control they have over how the game plays out.
Telling the story
Ultimately, DONTNOD games are all about telling a story that is interesting, gets players emotionally invested, and is complex enough to make room for different player choices and their consequences throughout gameplay. Life is Strange 2 does just that. Sean and Daniel’s story is heartbreaking and full of tough choices where the player really has to think about the possible repercussions (unlike in Before the Storm, where most consequences were too obvious for the choices to be truly difficult).
The main problem with the storyline is that it included several moments of political commentary that were so obvious and emphasized that they took the player out of the game’s universe. While subliminal or subtle political commentary can add to a game, the explicitness and overall amount of commentary made the player feel as if they are having the writer’s opinions forced on them rather than experiencing the political environment of the game’s world.
The plotline of the story moves at a good pace for the most part. Most cutscenes and gameplay sequences are well-paced, and the game offers enough interactable objects to allow for exploration without including so much that a completionist would go crazy. The one part where the pacing iss rather lacking, however, is when Sean and Daniel first enter the woods. There is a lot of walking around in the woods with no meaningful character interactions or particularly exciting gameplay, and it starts to feel boring until things pick back up again at the cave. It would have been nice to see some more interesting dialogue in this section or at least some intriguing tasks for the player to take on.
Featured image: GameSpot
Life is Strange
‘Life is Strange 2: Episode 1’ offers a promising start to a brand new story. The game does a great job of recreating the at-home feel of the ‘Life is Strange’ universe with a new storyline and new characters to boot. The simple gameplay allows players to focus on the story though sometimes this cuts into immersion. Overall, ‘Life is Strange 2: Episode 1’ is a strong start to what promises to be another moving and exciting story from the developers at Square Enix.
Plot and Characters