Episodic games have had a bit of an unlucky streak recently. The Walking Dead developer Telltale games shut down and a lot of drama surrounding the employees emerged. However despite this bleak look at the industry, DONTNOD have stepped up to the plate to deliver the next adventure in the Life Is Strange universe. But how does it stack up compared to the first game? Well I’m glad to say this is easily one of the more interesting and emotionally charged openings to an episodic adventure. Before we get started I want to highlight there will be NO NARRATIVE SPOILERS, however I will touch on certain mechanics and environments.
The first thing you need to understand going in is that despite the Life Is Strange title, it does not feature previous characters from the franchise. I am of course talking about the beloved Max and Chloe who made their way into our hearts a few years ago. There will be people who can only get excited about those characters, but come on guys. Their story is finished and we need to forget the past and move forward. Which is actually a theme in Life Is Strange 2, there are moments when you realise you need to stop thinking about Arcadia Bay and get with the times.
Anyway lets talk about our new front-runners. This game takes us on an adventure of a lifetime with Sean and Daniel. Two brothers, set on making their way to mexico after an incident in their home town. What makes this game interesting is that you’ll be playing as Sean the whole time, but your decisions directly influence Daniel and his understanding of the world. When you make a morally ambiguous decision you need to think about how your little brother will see you and the world for it. This makes your decisions feel that extra impact-full. Don’t get me wrong there is still the doubt in my head that all these decisions do make a difference. However the ones I’ve had to make so far have been dramatic and interesting to the plot.
That brings me onto one of the main features of the entire narrative which is the choices you make. These can be simple dialogue choices, or time stopping moments that change the direction of the story. We have to go into this knowing that things are going to be a little self contained. These choices are always a fog that simply just changes the colour of the road someone else walked down to get to the end. You’re still on the same road and will arrive at the same destination. But maybe your road had some heartwarming moments while someone else’s was full of aggression and rage.
It’s our job as the player to decide what road we want. Life is Strange 2 does an excellent job at making these self contained choices serve good progression for a single episode. While I can’t comment on how they effect me later down the line, I at least felt everything in this episode effected the episode which is done I’d say a little better than the first Life Is Strange. I also want to give a quick point in the dialogue. As Life Is Strange 2 isn’t afraid to get political on you. It will creep up on you and remind you of the world we live in. That’s how you know it’s effective at making its point.
The Story is also more enticing and playful from the get go. While I feel that the first game took an episode or two to get its grips, this sequel pushes us straight in the deep end. That’s when it comes to heart wrenching moments and action sequences. You’ll be shocked how intense things can get for an introduction episode to these characters. It really feels like DONTNOD know how to tell a story and especially the one in this game. Even with the lesser amount of supporting characters you can still pick up everyone’s personality and relate to certain ones. How far you like those characters will effect your decisions as you might decide to be selfish or a thief to certain ones.
Sean and Daniel as characters are also believable and broken. Emotionally speaking. As Sean you really feel the weight on his chest to care for his younger brother. It’s these things that really make the smaller decisions you make that much more thoughtful in the long-run. If you have a brother then you’ll relate very well to this as you question your own influence and how you would approach that situation. I do have a brother myself so I felt that I could get a little extra out of this game than maybe other people would.
Visually speaking the game feels like a significant upgrade over the first game. The lighting and autumn colour scheme really helps to set the tone of the environments you explore. The game has also improved the general textures of characters and objects to bring a bit of well needed fidelity into the fray. Noticeably the character models look and speak a lot better than they did in the pass, which is always a welcome in narrative based games like this. I didn’t pick up on the soundtrack as much as I did the first game, but it feels like it’s got the same influence.
Gameplay wise as well we are talking a good 2 and a half hours from a very small pool of environments. The places you visit are fleshed out with objects to find and interact with, making them more believable. I took a good 45 minutes just to get the opening title sequence I was that invested. I love this level of interaction as well, it really opens up character traits to the player. You are literally exploring their life and their thoughts on certain things. Helping you to relate or disagree with a character more before getting into the meat of things. Before the game titles started I understood what sort of person Sean and Daniel were and how I wanted to play.
I love this first episode, quite a lot. It’s classic Life Is Strange with interesting new characters. It feels like the game has a great amount of polish and with the amount of game time it feels like you accomplish more as a player, just from an opening act. When it comes to ranking these episodes I’m going to be self contained. Rating each one based on their own merits, but if I feel there’s something noticeably lacking from one I’ll be sure to mention. Then we’ll work out the average score after episode 5.
With all that said, Life Is Strange 2 really is an exciting and emotional adventure that leaves me wanting more. While there’s not too much growth gameplay wise from the last one, DONTNOD have added more ways to have fun and bond with Sean and Daniel. I feel like I’ve bonded with these characters already, and I can expect to see them growing together, and breaking my heart even more over the next few episodes. A truly well done opener episode.
Life Is Strange 2 Episode 1 will get a 9/10 from me.