Theres an unexpected political angle to Dontnods much anticipated sequel, but will it live up to the success of its predecessor?
We were wondering which would be the first mainstream video game to feature Donald Trump, but we have to say we never imagined it would be Life Is Strange 2. Hes not physically represented in the game, but its portrayal of a trigger-happy police force and emboldened racists is clearly meant as a commentary on modern day America. The political elements arent the main focus of the story, at least not in this first episode, but it is impressive to see a game even trying to be topical.
Equally laudable is the fact that though this is a sequel to Life Is Strange it doesnt feature any characters from the first game and only a few subtle (and one not so subtle) references to the fact that its set in the same universe. Which is almost shocking given how popular Max and Chloe are with fans. Although at the beginning the game does ask whether youve played the first game and which decision you went with in its final scene, so there are presumably more connections to come.
Unless he was in the background and we missed him this first episode also doesnt feature Chris from free prologue The Awesome Adventures Of Captain Spirit. Instead, the plot revolves around brothers Daniel and Sean Diaz – the children of a single-father Mexican immigrant who are forced into hiding after Daniel, the youngest, finds hes developed telekinetic powers.
The above description sounds like some random episode of the X-Files, or perhaps X-Men, but were purposefully skating around the true nature of the events that set up the story. The pivotal sequence comes out of nowhere and is genuinely shocking once you realise the inevitability of what is about to happen, and the fact that the game is daring enough to show it.
Life Is Strange 2 is in no way preachy, and theres only one other sequence towards the end of the episode that deals with the same subject matter, but its eye-opening to play a game that puts you in the shoes of someone being discriminated against. Something which video games can achieve far better than any other medium but almost never do.
You control Sean, the older brother, and in gameplay terms everything works very much like the first Life Is Strange. The obvious point of reference then was to the work of Telltale Games, but since the sad news of their imminent demise it suddenly seems like bad form to compare the two. But either way Life Is Strange 2 is a graphic adventure, although with few real puzzles and no action its perhaps closer to a walking sim than an old LucasArts game.
Unlike the first Life Is Strange, its not the main character that has the magic powers and instead Sean is just an ordinary teen whose response to the tragic events of the opening is to take his brother and start hiking from Seattle to Mexico. Whether thats going to be the overarching plot for the whole game we dont know but in the first episode your main concerns are simply finding food and shelter – and avoiding racist rednecks.
The original Life Is Strange earned its acclaim thanks to its solid character work and the best narrative branching in any story-based video game. Theres no way for us to really judge how well the sequel lives up to that legacy from just the first episode but there are a number of difficult decisions (one of which has three options rather than just two) to make and one in particular, at the end, seems like it will have a significant effect on the story.
But whats just as intriguing about the new game is that all of your decisions, including the seemingly trivial ones, have an influence on Daniel. Again, theres not much evidence of this is in the first episode but its clear that things like deciding whether to steal or lie are having an effect on his young mind and, so Dontnod promise us, will influence his personality as the game progresses.
Not only has the gameplay been expanded from the original but the graphics have also had a major overhaul. The facial animation is still fairly limited, and everyone looks like theyre wearing a plastic wig, but the landscapes are very nice and the games distinctive art style manages to smooth over any remaining technical limitations (although there are a few bugs and we did have the game crash on us once).
The only problem with Life Is Strange 2 is that the dialogue is still unconvincing, and sometimes cringeworthy. Its the same writers as the first game and while the teenage dialogue isnt quite as grating as before its still very obviously written by someone whose school days are long behind them. But the script in general suffers from a lack of subtlety, and rarely feels natural. Its so on the nose at times you cant help but roll your eyes along with dialogue, even as you appreciate what its trying to do.
These problems were evident in the first game though and it wasnt enough to ruin the experience then and we dont expect it will be this time either. We have no idea where the story is going at this point, especially in terms of Daniels powers, and thats exactly how wed want it after just one episode. Life Is Strange 2 couldve gone the obvious and easy route but instead its decided to make things difficult for itself, and its characters, and that can only be a good thing in the end.
Life Is Strange 2 – Episode 1
In Short: Life Is Stranges sequel is off to an impressively daring start, both in terms of the subject matter and creating a brand-new cast of characters.
Pros: Interesting story set-up and characters. Narrative branching seems more complex than ever, especially in terms of your influence over Daniel. Improved graphics and great soundtrack.
Cons: The script still needs work, with unconvincing teenage dialogue and a general lack of subtlety. Some graphics problems.
Formats: PlayStation 4 (reviewed), Xbox One, and PC
Price: £6.49 (£32.99 for season pass)
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Release Date: 27th September 2018
Age Rating: 18
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