Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Release Date: 09/26/2018
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Life is Strange is one of my favorite games of all time. Dontnod is mastermind at storytelling and character development. They can somehow create a world that you can either relate to and get sucked into or both, and yet add an element of fantasy in there. Life is Strange’s title is fitting for these games as you play as characters living an ordinary life and then all of a sudden one of those strange twists of fate change their entire lives.
Life is Strange 2 cranks this to the max with a story that had me hooked until the very end and is on par with the first game. You play as Sean and Daniel Diaz who get ripped from their home in Seattle, Washington, and must escape the US and find their way to the Mexico border. I do have to warn that there will be some spoilers in here as I couldn’t properly review the game without talking about certain points in the story as this is the main part of the entire game.
What I love so much about this game is how average it starts out. Just a little boy and a teenager trying to live their regular lives with their father when suddenly life turns for the worst. This telekinetic power that Daniel discovers comes out when he gets into a fight with the next-door neighbor and when Sean intervenes it all turns for the worse. A cop dies, their father dies, and Sean panics and runs. Now pause right there. Most people would just hide or wait through the trial and tribulations of being proven innocent. That’s part of what makes this series so great is the opposite of what should happen happens and turns it into a strange twist of your own beliefs and choices and what the characters are doing.
As the Diaz brothers set off down towards Mt. Rainier in the first episode they encounter a kidnapper and cope with Daniel’s powers, but this is where you will start getting into a gameplay loop if you can call it that. You get plopped into a large starting area that allows you to look around at a bunch of objects and listen to Sean’s inner dialogue comment on it all to learn more about what’s around you and sometimes discover hidden objects. You can also push on to the main objectives and during these long cut scenes you will get dialog options that don’t seem to mean much at first, but the entire game is a balancing act of influencing your younger brother on how he ends up. Is he destructive and careless, is he too careful and caring, does he hate Sean or love him in the end? A lot of options slightly sway this and then there are larger game changers that allow two options and each one will sway the story in another direction.
Some of these options’ consequences are usually seen right away and some are seen in the next episode. Once you get through a tense scene that makes you choose something big it settles back down to more minor plot development and this is where the game falters some. For example, episodes 2 and three 3 are very slow and feature too much slice-of-life stuff such as the brothers living in a homeless camp in the redwood forest in California, living with their grandparents, and doing daily life stuff. You do day to day stuff like chores and talk to everyone, but the integration of these brand new people feel like a slog as you must endure tons of dialog to get to know them, and in the end, it doesn’t really matter as they are unique to this episode. Episode 4 is much shorter and features all of the above but in shorter integrals and I felt was the best-paced episode. Episode 5 feels like a lot of filler in the beginning and takes too long to get to the end as the only “action” is maybe the last 30 minutes when the brothers are finally at the border.
Despite these complaints about pacing and story, it’s still fantastic and memorable. There are a few minor gameplay elements tossed in like quick-time events and aiming to throw a knife or something, but there is very little gameplay. The majority consists of Sean walking around looking at stuff. I honestly could see this as just a mini-series TV show rather than a game. Many times I set the controller down and only picked it up for dozens of minutes at a time to pick a dialog option. I personally love deep stories in games, but I don’t want to sacrifice gameplay. There are literally zero other elements besides walking around, examining, and dialog choices.
With all that said, the story is just amazing and very emotional. I related a lot to the first game as I personally grew up in a small town, but I also relate to this game as I live in the Seattle area and have also lived in California for a good part of my life. I grew up in small towns and had crazy events that change my life growing up in the blink of an eye. While I wasn’t a fugitive running from the law there is always a strange thing that happens in our lives that changes it forever and can happen so fast we never saw it coming and that’s what makes Life is Strange 2 so incredibly rich and realistic. The events are happening right now and could really happen in real life, but there’s that element of fantasy that makes it a great game rather than a life simulator.
I also have to comment on the visuals, the switch to Unreal Engine 4 makes the game look much better, but far from not looking dated. There are muddy textures, some wonky animations, and low poly models. This is just something most adventure games suffer from. The voice acting is pretty good though, while not amazing, it does the job to deliver emotion and you really feel it. Overall, Life is Strange 2 is for the story lovers out there and less the gamers.