By Melody Klink
I think everyone knows by now that I’m a big fan of DONTNOD- I’ve preordered most of their titles, and have a lot of faith in them as a company. So when Life is Strange 2 was revealed, I hopped on the opportunity to return to the landscape I had so precariously traversed before. Episode 1 released this week, and there’s a lot to bite into. Let’s get started!
***Please note: there are massive spoilers ahead. There’s no way to review this Episode in its entirety without them. Sorry!***
Life is Strange 2 doesn’t involve characters from the previous entry-- instead centering on Sean and Daniel Diaz, the sons of a Mexican-American family in Seattle, Washington. (Hey! We’ve seen these two in The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit!) It’s almost Halloween, and Sean’s biggest worry is whether or not he’ll meet up with his crush from school at the big party, while Daniel just wants to dress as a zombie and eat chocolate bars. Aside from an MIA mother (who is alluded to in the beginning of the game, but not fully revealed), the boys have a good life with their father… that is, until a massive misunderstanding rips their world apart.
Buckle up, good folks, because this is about to get real sociopolitical.
You see, being part of a multicultural family in America at this time isn’t exactly easy, especially if it involves Mexico. So when your little brother accidentally sprays your angry, racist neighbor with fake blood, a fight ensues… and police show up.
The now-unconscious neighbor is on the ground, covered in fake blood. What gets assumed? Yep, you guessed it: the Mexican kids killed the guy. A gun is pulled on Sean and his little brother. They do as instructed, while trying to de-escalate and explain the situation the best a teenager and 9-year old can. Their father rushes out at the commotion… and ends up dead from a gunshot wound.
All this leads up to a cataclysmic explosion, which decimates much of the landscape-- and the people-- around Daniel. In a daze, Sean scoops up his younger brother and rushes away from the scene.
This is where their “adventure” begins: home is lost, and there’s nowhere to run but away. Daniel remembers nothing of the explosion, or what happened to their father… and doesn’t realize that now, Sean’s all he’s got.
I wish I could say that’s where the awful racism and massive wedge dug between differing people ends, but it’s not. As the boys haphazardly head towards their father’s hometown of Puerto Lobos, Mexico, they encounter more people who are hellbent on ridding America of their kind.
There’s a lot of “build the wall” here. As one person you encounter says, “everything is political.”
And as DONTNOD said, they wanted people to see “how hard it is to live as outcasts.”
But a strange balance is struck in Life is Strange 2, between interactions with various people and the serenity of nature. You spend much of your time in LiS2 in the woods, ultimately trying to keep yourself together while taking care of your little brother. Considering Daniel doesn’t remember what happens, he continually asks for their dad, wondering why he isn’t around, and why they’re wandering through the woods. Sean does his best to make it an adventure, which you can liken to either “Minecraft” or “Lord of the Rings” in your dialogue options.
You spend a lot of time shaping the story through dialogue, really, because of the quiet-- there’s much more down time than action.
Of course, being the first Episode of five, we don’t learn much about the ultimate ending; much like other Life is Strange stories, there’s a lot of clicking, learning, mulling over information at the beginning. You learn most about the Diaz family through Sean’s interactions before leaving home, and after that, it’s all about strengthening your bond with Daniel.
This is a tough review to call straight. On one hand, you desperately feel for the plight of these two boys, who run away from home to avoid either being separated or something worse by a system who makes their intentions known when it comes to Mexico. It’s uncomfortable to watch happen, as are most engaging stories. You see a reality that isn’t far from the daily news.
On the other hand, I’m not sure how strong of an entry it is for Life is Strange as a whole. This is one issue I have with episodic games-- there’s a lot to piece together, and then your time with that Episode is up. Queue the waiting game. I hesitate to even make the comparison, given recent gaming news, but a lot of the mechanics for LiS2 feel very TellTale’s The Walking Dead. I suppose that’s difficult to avoid when they’re both “on the road” stories, where you never know if the next person will be friend or foe.
Except zombies and desperate people are switched out for horribly racist people who will zip tie you to a pipe.
The voice acting is pretty solid, and the graphics are great, though they sometimes fall into that “Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker there’s too much light on the character so they lose all their angles” thing. The engine has obviously improved, though!
You can tell a lot of thought and love went into the title… I just hope they continue to bring it with future episodes. At an All-Or-Nothing price of $40, I feel like I can’t go gung-ho and say order it now. I genuinely wish the episodes were available separately on consoles, in order to gauge reaction and go from there, like the previous one. But I’m already in for the full round and there’s no going back now, so we’ll see how it plays out!