If we know each other, you know Life is Strange is more than just a game series to me. It was a series that helped me cope with the loss of my grandparents, reminded me of my home in Northern California, and (in my personal opinion) changed the way stories were told in games forever. With relatable characters, strange sci-fi situations that still somehow seem totally possible, and high replay value, what’s not to love?
When Max and Chloe’s story came to a close, we were told we’d be meeting new characters. Naturally, there was some resistance. However, when fans found out it took place in the same universe, they became open to the idea. The first episode of Life is Strange 2, Roads, dropped in September, and is different from its predecessor. If you are interested in playing Life is Strange 2, and have not played the previous titles: STOP. As a big advocate of the series, I recommend first playing Before the Storm (with the Farewell episode). Then dive into Life is Strange – Before the Storm heavily enhances the experience.
While I typically like to keep my reviews spoiler free, I have a bit to unwrap with this one. If you want to see the overall score for Roads, feel free to scroll to the bottom. For those of you who want to keep your mind free of Life is Strange spoilers, for now, your trail ends here.
The following review is based on two, five-hour playthroughs. The episode itself, without stopping to take notes, will probably take the average player about three hours to complete.
[alert type=”blue”]This review contains spoilers for the first Life is Strange, and minor spoilers for Life is Strange 2. Read at your own risk.[/alert]
Starting a new save file in Life is Strange 2 will prompt you with a question: “Did you play the first Life is Strange?” Upon (hopefully you did) answering yes, you’re asked if you chose to sacrifice Arcadia Bay. Being asked this alone prompted me the need to play through the episode twice before writing my review. I wanted to make sure of what differences the player is exposed to at the beginning of the story before writing my review. But I will get back to that point in a bit.
The sequel to the beloved original might surprise some – it’s a lot darker than it’s predecessor. The first installment (and its prequel) dealt with issues like growing up in a small town, being misunderstood, figuring out your sexuality and how to deal with it, and loss, among others. Life is Strange 2, however, really puts the player in a spot surrounded by modern-day issues. Racism, immigration, and police brutality to name a few. The way I described it to someone was a mixture between the first Life is Strange and The Last of Us.
The story follows Sean, and his younger brother Daniel. They live in Seattle with their father, who immigrated to America from Puerto Lobos, Mexico. By looking around the garage and confirmed in some dialog later in the game, you learn Sean and Daniel’s mother left them some time ago. The next-door neighbor is a racist white asshole, and later on, in the game, the two boys are unethically questioned because of the color of their skin. In Life is Strange 2, your main goal is to survive and leave your hometown instead of saving it.
Sean isn’t a quite the poster-perfect child Max was, neither is he a total rebel like Chloe. Sean falls somewhere in between. He’s an aspiring artist who seems to be misunderstood. He doesn’t like to be held down by rules and is honest with those around him. Just as Max took photos, and Chloe tagged stuff up, Daniel has his own hobby: Drawing. While the mechanic for the drawing bits worked fine on my mouse, I had issues in my second playthrough when using a different mouse [on a different computer]. In addition to drawing, Sean can find “souvenirs” that can be attached to his backpack. These can be something he pins to his backpack or a keychain.
Once you embark on your journey with Daniel, there is an instant change in the way decisions are looked at in comparison to the first game. Your dialog choices and decisions no longer only effect you, but also Daniel. Little things you do and say will influence him and the way he acts. Remember, he’s about nine years old, so if he sees or hears his older brother say something, he looks at that as how to act and be a “grown up.” I absolutely felt a lot more hesitance with everything I did in Roads. There was a sense of pressure that made me question my moral standards, and who I was as a person.
In an interview with EuroGamer, the developers talked about how developing Daniel’s A.I. was a challenge. Just like developing Ellie in The Last of Us was a challenge and something unique, Daniel’s development was, too. He’ll go off and talk to people (in which case, you may need to cut him off from talking too much), explores on his own (so you need to keep an eye on him), and points at your actions to justify his own. New to Life is Strange 2, there are now additional optional dialog trees that give you the option of interacting with Daniel. For example, in one of the first areas, there are trail blaze symbols on trees. You can observe them for yourself, but (notated by a blue outline) you can also include Daniel, and teach him about trail blazes.
If the sense of survival and protection were pretty high in the first episode, I’m almost afraid of the rest of the season. At any point, I genuinely felt like the slightest slip-up could ruin everything. It even went as far as not trusting any of the other secondary characters in the game. If a secondary character seems to have good intentions, I was still reluctant not to trust them, or believe anything they’re saying.
I’m responsible for my little brother, how am I supposed to feel safe – all things considered – or trust anyone? Hell, there was an option to eat random berries on a bush, and that had me stop and think for a second. You could let Daniel eat them, tell him not to, or try them yourself. The game really makes you think how you would handle this situation if it were you in Sean’s shoes. I’m not saying this is a bad thing, mind you, this is a great thing. DONTNOD did a phenomenal job yet again in pulling my heartstrings and immersing me in the game’s environment.
If you chose not to sacrifice Arcadia Bay, you’ll actually get to see it. The sight of Arcadia Bay immediately hit me with the feels. If you chose to sacrifice Arcadia Bay, be prepared for a lot more feels. Seeing the wreckage of the town we all grew to love really took me back. Not only because of the memories there but how hard it was to make that decision. While our glimpse into Arcadia Bay was brief, it has my mind wondering if that connection is going to grow.
Sean says they’re headed to Puerto Lobos, Mexico, where their dad was from. Meanwhile, Chloe and Max are presumably headed to Los Angeles. If you sacrificed Arcadia Bay, is there potential to meet up with them? Does Chloe staying alive cause chaos wherever her and Max go? If so, can Sean convince her to wind back three whole years back in time to “fix” everything? If Arcadia Bay is still standing, will the connections be able to grow? Perhaps Max will see the video of what happened, and try to find Daniel herself. There are a lot of questions I have, and a lot of different places the story can go.
Upon completing The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, you’re told Chris will return in Life is Strange 2. In the preview for the second episode, Sean is heard encouraging Daniel. He says things like “trust me” and “you can do it.” The environment is covered in snow, like in Captain Spirit, and Daniel successfully lifts a rock with his telekinetic powers. Perhaps after saving Chris from breaking his bones, he’ll join Sean and Daniel? Again, there’s a lot to think about, and where this story may go.
Aside from a bug where dialog overlapped in a scene at a gas station, the game runs smoothly. The environments are gorgeous and have incredible detail. The music still follows the same aesthetic from the other installments. Facial expressions and eye movements are absolutely fucking amazing and highly detailed. Mouth movements have also vastly improved from Life is Strange. Things like timed responses, interacting with Daniel, and having three options in most cases (instead of two) keep it fresh.
Life is Strange made you feel like everything matters. Life is Strange 2 makes you feel like everything matters even more.
This review was conducted on PC with a code provided by Square Enix. Life is Strange 2 is currently available on PC (Steam), PlayStation 4, and Xbox One. The game will be releasing on macOS and Linux sometime in 2019.