Life is Strange 2 Episode 1 - MojoPlays Review
VOICE OVER: Riccardo Tucci
Life is Strange 2 is a big departure from the original game in may ways; rest assured this is a squeal to the original game, but follows different characters. Does it hold up to the standards set by the original?
If you’ve played the first Life is Strange, you’ll know that Dontnod Entertainment doesn’t shy away from dealing with sensitive subjects. Perhaps emboldened by the fact that their previous game was so acclaimed, directors Michel Koch and Raoul Barbet are taking on even more political subjects, particularly racism and police brutality in modern USA, while continuing to deliver the aesthetic and mood of the Life is Strange franchise. In that sense, “Roads,” the first episode of Life is Strange 2, feels different but familiar.
The game starts off very innocently. You play as Sean Diaz, just a regular 16-year-old high school student, who, despite being a track star, has to get help from his BFF Lyla Park to ask his crush out. Just like any teenager, all he wants to do is hangout with his friends, while doing things that may not be 100% legal.
Sean also has a nine-year-old little brother, Daniel and their relationship is exactly what you would expect. Being older, Sean is occasionally mean to little Daniel; but will protect him should the occasion arise. (And trust us when we say you don’t need to wait too long before that happens.)
Living with Sean and Daniel is their father Esteban. We don’t really know much about their mother; however, environmental clues suggest that she left the house with some bad blood.
Esteban comes from Mexico and has settled in Seattle to pursue the American dream.And this is where we start to see some of the political themes of Life is Strange 2 - namely, racism, which explodes in quite a crescendo in what’s arguably the most shocking moment of this episode, that sees Esteban shot dead by a police officer. But we’ll get back to politics later, as it serves more as a realistic backdrop than the driving theme of this story.
Following through with the legacy of its namesake, the first episode of Life is Strange 2 is already full of some very emotional moments. It’s very cinematic, so if you’re expecting thrilling gameplay, you probably won’t have a great time. (The closest you get to “stressful” is a single instance of mashing the left mouse button. However if following along the relationship of Max & Chloe from the first Life is Strange left you wanting for more, then you will definitely enjoy the journey of the wolf brothers. (Remember the butterfly and the raven from the previous games?)
Instead of friendship (or romance, depending on your choices), the main theme of this game is brotherhood and family. As the older brother, Sean is responsible for looking after Daniel and the choices you make as Sean will affect Daniel’s growth.
For instance, in the 3rd act of the episode, Sean and Daniel stumble upon a gas station and you have to decide whether you want to buy supplies or try and steal some. What kind of a role model do you want to be? If you steal, then you end up teaching your little brother that stealing is good. Now, maybe that’s how you want to raise your little brother - and hey, we’re not here to judge. But let’s just say that your choices in the game could potentially have wide-reaching consequences. And this is just episode 1… Who knows how that tent you decided to steal might come back in episode 4 to bite you in the ass?
Daniel is also interesting as an NPC. While you’re exploring some of the environments in the game, Daniel will go around and do his own thing. As he does that, you’ll get the opportunity to interact with him, sharing a brotherly moment that could make your grow bond stronger. However, there’s always the chance that you’ll miss out on those moments, because you’re preoccupied with something else - such as sketching a pretty picture of the river.
At some point I was collecting wood to make some fire, so I’m pretty sure I missed an opportunity to try spearfishing with Daniel. But then I got to teach him how to skip stones on water, so that was pretty cool!
Oh also, Daniel has some psychic powers? This wouldn’t be Life is Strange without some supernatural shenanigans, after all.
The characterization and portrayals of the two brothers is very well done, so much so that you can’t help but want to protect Daniel. Although, at some points, the mismatch between the responses that you want Sean to give and the angsty teenager way in which he speaks kinda get annoying. But hey, he’s a teenager, so maybe we can let that slide. (Not to mention the fact that that’s one of the drawbacks of the modern dialogue-wheel system where developers have to condense a whole line of dialogue into a few words.)
Now. Politics. The fact that the game doesn’t shy away from handling some of the most sensitive issues in the U.S. is impressive and kinda surprising. It’s not an accident that the story starts in October 2016, a few weeks before a certain election. The cool thing is that the game isn’t very in-your-face about it. Sure, at some points, the characters throw out some very obvious and expected phrases. At other times, it hints at the casual racism Sean and his family has to go through, in a realistic way that’s sure to resonate with some people.
The whole reason behind why Sean and Daniel have to go through this journey is because of racism, as their dad gets shot by a police officer who gets unreasonably anxious, arguably because Esteban is a Mexican man who got too close to him.
It will be interesting to see where the game goes to next - whether it will continue to build up on the political themes or relegate them to being a realistic backdrop to the journey of the Diaz brothers.
Overall, it feels good to be back in the world of Life is Strange. While we do get a glimpse of Arcadia Bay (whose condition depends on what choices you made in the first game) , it seems like we’ll be moving on away from Max & Chloe - letting go of the past and looking into the future like the wolf brothers have to. And that’s perfectly fine, because Sean and Daniel are very interesting characters on their own, and we’re very curious to see what will happen to them next. Will Daniel learn how to use the Force - I mean his telekinetic powers? Will they reach Mexico? Will Brody the rad political guy come back? Is “awesome possum” the new “hella?”
Hopefully, by the time Life is Strange 2 over, we’ll have answers to all these questions.