It’s a good month for adventure gamers – after the release of Blacksad: Under The Skin we’re also getting the full release of Life Is Strange 2 by DONTNOD. Released in episodes over the course of a little more than a year, the full season is now available for Xbox One, Playstation 4 and PC. We waited to play the previous episodes until we could see the entire story through, and it was worth the wait.
Although not related to the events and characters of the first Life is Strange, the sequel does lean on many of the central mechanics of that very successful first season. It’s episodic in nature, has a heavy emphasis on storytelling and players make impactful and often dramatic choices that impact the narrative and in which direction it unfolds.
Our main protagonists this time are Sean and Daniel Diaz, two brothers who run away from their home after a tragic event. They’re bound for Mexico as they undertake a road trip that should eventually lead them to their dad’s home town. Before then, however, they’ll have to make sure they stay out of the police’s reach, and there’s also an urge to connect with family members as a safety net but has the risk of exposing them. On top of all that, Daniel is also discovering that he has telekinetic abilities that are rapidly developing. Should he use them, and if so, for what purpose?
The adventure takes the brothers on a road trip along the western coast of the United States, which makes for interesting changes in scenery and location – a rather big departure from the first Life Is Strange, where most of the drama unfolded inside a small town community. In the sequel, you don’t actually control both of the brothers, but play as Sean – the older of the two. As the older brother, you have Daniel looking to you for guidance, and your advice doesn’t just shape the course of his action, but ultimately also the relationship between the two of you.
Not surprisingly, the storytelling is absolutely stellar, and very few games have the ability to convey a narrative with the dramatic effect that DONTNOT has put into Life Is Strange 2. The visual style, along with the quality of the animation that’s on display, certainly helps the game in this regard, and the voicework has also been well done.
Even when playing Life is Strange 2 as a continuous experience, you can spot its episodic origins from a mile away. Once Sean and Daniel leave a location, a serious amount of time passes in the game before we meet up with them again – the in-game diary and the occasional cutscene getting us up to speed. This works very well from an episodic point of view, but as a complete narrative is almost feels like you’re reading a selection of short stories rather than chapters of a continued narrative.
This isn’t just a narrative issue, it also affects the core gameplay mechanic of having player choice. Rather than playing through a story that can ultimately diverge into many different directions, it feels like every chapter needs to converge back to where the writers want the story to go rather than go off in a completely different direction. There are times where it appears as though you can call off the big plans, but ultimately it’s a case of “come hell or high water, this is where you’re going!”
There’s plenty of player choice within each chapter though, and they’re different enough to warrant multiple playthroughs. We also understand how infinitely complex the game’s structure would have been without the convergence at the end of each chapter, so it’s an easy issue to forgive. The narrative adventure laid out in the game is excellent, its many key decision moments are memorable, and it’s a worthy successor to a modern classic.