Since parting ways with Max, Chloe and Rachel, the Life is Strange series has left a hole that needed to be filled with a new episodic series… I for one was pleased to see Life is Strange 2 announced and while many were disappointed to see a change in protagonists, I felt that the story for the previous characters was over and needed to be left well alone. The first episode of the five part series of Life is Strange 2 called Roads is now available and I wanted to share my thoughts on the opening chapter after playing through on stream on release day. Please note that I have tried to avoid spoilers where possible in order for you to enjoy the story for yourselves.
Life is Strange 2 throws you straight into the story as it shows a police car dash cam recording some events. These leave you a little baffled but will become clear later on. After this, you meet your new protagonist, Sean. A teenage boy who hangs out with his best friend Lyla, sneaking in a smoke and planning his approach to the girl he’s crushing on as they’re heading to a party. Similarly to our experience at Blackwell Academy, the life of a teenager seems so complicated as you balance friendships with studying, the pressure of sex, drugs and drink while also trying to keep your parents happy. Initially, Sean seems like an ok kid with some good friends around him and as we are introduced to his little brother Daniel and his father Mr Diaz, we gather that they are quite a close family who care about each other even if Daniel is an annoyance to Sean. Our tutorial eases us into the controls which feel familiar to the previous games as you point the camera at an object and select the option available to either interact with it or just look at it. As Sean starts his preparations for the party, a situation occurs which changes everything in a flash.
Before you know it, Sean and Daniel are hiking along a road and we must travel with them on this journey as the young ‘wolf brothers’ (you’ll see what I mean when you play) negotiate the open road on their own. It’s clear that Daniel doesn’t know what happened and to a certain extent as an audience, we aren’t entirely clear on everything but as Sean battles with tragedy itself and the heavy burden of having to find the right moment to tell his little brother what happened, the game leads us into the woods and offers an opportunity to learn more about their relationship and try to build it up as the choices you make as Sean will have an impact on Daniel as the story goes on. I don’t know about anyone else but I suddenly felt an enormous sense of pressure to do the right thing in case Daniel ends up hating Sean which would just be awful! The woods allow for a mix of acting like a kid and being the responsible grown up as you’re camping out and need to look after the younger sibling while dealing with everything that has happened. There were some lovely moments such as the amazing nod to The Last of Us and sitting down to draw which is a great addition, replacing the graffiti and photos that we have become accustomed to.
After a night in the woods, the journey continues and the pair find a gas station. You can make a choice as to how to best approach this section whether you will be a good citizen or maybe steal what you need in order to have some comfort. You’ll meet some new people, one of whom may become a useful ally later in the episode. But sadly, things go South pretty quickly and the boys are again in a bad spot. One thing that is clear is the social commentary surrounding attitudes towards those who reside South of the border with mention of the infamous ‘wall’, this made me both sad and angry as these young boys are having a pretty bad time of things and dealing with this as well just makes it worse. It’s a strong theme to follow and I do wonder whether it will be brought up again in future episodes.
After another altercation, your new ally helps you out and his character is great. I don’t want to ruin too much about how the character is used at this stage, however I just hope that he doesn’t turn out be a bad person as often those we trust are the ones that can hurt us the most and I really don’t want this person to do that! We will see how it pans out however at this stage, he is my favorite character and manages to be a helpful and much needed injection of positive energy that is needed as everything is falling apart around the boys. Towards the end of the episode, the boys must confront what has happened and we learn that Daniel has some sort of power that we don’t fully understand yet. Is it telekenisis? Some sort of force energy? Either way, it is powerful and neither Daniel, nor Sean know how to control it…. I guess we will see how that pans out in future episodes.
The story so far has been a roller-coaster of emotions which I didn’t think I would feel this early on considering we have just met these characters, however in a similar way to Grave of the Fireflies, it feels like things are just going to get worse and I really hope they get better. I don’t want to say much more than that at this early stage as we still have a lot to learn about these characters but I am definitely looking forward to seeing where this story goes. For those folks who are worried the world of the first game has been left behind, fear not, there are some bits in the first episode that may relate to them… and that’s all I’ll say about that.
As for the rest of the game, it’s graphically beautiful sticking with the DONTNOD art style that we have become accustomed to and the outdoor environments look stunning. I could have spent hours wandering around the woods and just enjoying the view that has been beautifully crafted for us. I have always adored the art style and am glad that it has developed enough to improve over the years without losing the charm and the overall effect. I loved the sketches in Sean’s journal as they were just fantastic and a real treat which you could revisit as and when you wanted in the game menu along with any other notes that have been written as you go through the story. The artwork is a lovely touch and I found myself checking the journal every now and again just to see what else had been added but also it gives a great insight into what Sean is thinking and feeling as he can’t outwardly express these emotions due to the situation. It really does add another level of attachment to the character for me which is important in the first episode as we have many more miles to travel together during this story.
The collectibles this time around are items that can be attached to Sean’s backpack which is a nice touch as you can change these as you go through, so it’s best to keep an eye out for these items as I found they were easy to miss. It’s a nice touch and adds the option to customise your experience a little which is always good. I would also recommend checking the phone for messages as these just help with building the sense of what has happened during the course of the episode, the urgency, the concern, the people who care about the Diaz family. As with the previous games, this is an effective technique in the way it opens up another level of character development and initially I enjoyed reading through them but after everything that has happened, I felt quite worried about how people were reacting but could do nothing about it just as Sean cannot do anything to change things… it would be handy to have Max around I can tell you.
The other aspect of the game that I always find is done well in these Life is Strange episodes is the use of music. The soundtrack is always great with a nice mix of an underlying score while throwing in some familiar modern music that people might recognise such as Bloc Party. The acoustic score is calming but also quite emotive which I thought worked well throughout the episode, especially during the sections which offered moments to just sit and relax which also make a welcome return. While it may be a new cast of characters and a new story, it very much remains a Life is Strange game and for fans who were disappointed that Max and Chloe were not involved this time around, I hope they will give Sean and Daniel a chance because their story has just begun and it could shape up to be another emotional journey that will draw us in just as the previous games have.
Overall, Life is Strange has so far made a promising return with a new, intriguing power, an emotional story and a pair of young wolves who hopefully will have things work out for them as well go through the story. I personally am looking forward to seeing how this story pans out and what will happen next but I can foresee some turbulent times ahead and am hoping that we may see Captain Awesome in the next episode too! I hope the episodes maintain a good length and I will strive to take more time to explore in the next episode as I missed some opportunities to interact with Daniel which may affect the relationship between the boys as the story progresses. While Sean doesn’t appear to have any powers himself, his decisions will affect Daniel in ways that we may not yet understand.
Life is Strange 2 Complete Season is now available for purchase on Steam, PS4 and XBOX One. Episode 1 is available now with episode 2 coming soon.