From the get-go, Life is Strange 2 tells you two things: Firstly, welcome back to the good old Life is Strange you’re used to, and secondly, this is not the Life is Strange you’re used to.
After some confusing happenings are shown by a police dash-cam, small-town nostalgia hits and indie-rock plays in the backgroun, as we move to the suburbs of Seattle. Sean and Lyla are self-proclaimed BFFs, their racist neighbour thinks they’re dating, Sean wants to score with a cool girl at a party, Lyla wants to help him and score with someone else at the party, too. There’s not much that can go wrong in their lives, except for the fact that they have to graduate this year and they don’t know what’s next.
On top of this, Sean doesn’t like his brother Daniel much, visibly so, and their mother is out of the picture. Not dead, but she definitely left a strong enough impact with her departure that she might as well be. Their dad, Esteban, is a lovable goof, and money doesn’t seem to be much of a problem as he works his ass off to make sure they have more than they need. There’s not much they need to worry about, except a certain president being voted into power (note: the game takes place in October 2016). He’s never mentioned by name, but his wall is.
As Sean protects Daniel from the bully next door when police just happen to be there, what began as self-defence escalates into a double (or even triple?) murder, a tragedy of errors, with each person misunderstanding the next. Sean wakes up before Daniel and is forced to carry him a bit of the way before he wakes up again, and they start “hiking” into the forest. Daniel doesn’t remember what happened. Sean doesn’t understand but wants to protect his little brother from the truth. The police think they know what went down and want to arrest both of them.
The gameplay of Life is Strange 2 is fairly simple. In fact, it’s closer to Life is Strange: Before the Storm than the original game, purely due to the fact that the character you control, Sean, doesn’t have powers, and his brother Daniel doesn’t know he has them or how to use them. You have to keep Daniel fed, happy, and unknowing, at least for the most part, about what transpired back in Seattle. If you have an object in the middle of a screen, you’ll have the typical one or more options to choose from, with one option usually being “look”.
However, the visible addition to this system with Life is Strange 2 is a new blue option on the list. This is an action that lets you interact with Daniel in some way, be it discussing something with him or having him do something. This mechanic is used in quite a few different ways as you make your way through all kinds of unfortunate situations on the way south.
Another fairly big change is the backpack/diary. Your inventory is spread out when you hit Tab, and you can click on any of them to find out what Sean has to say about them. In the Tab menu, you’ll also find the phone with a bunch of text messages from people like in both previous Life is Strange games.
The diary from the last two games is now a sketchbook, and there are several points in the game where you can sit down to draw something, taking in the view and putting it down on paper. It’s quite a calming idea, but it’s somewhat dodgy due to the fact that you draw by holding the mouse button and moving your mouse wildly. Despite that though, it’s still really cool to see the drawings you made in-game taking up space in the sketchbook next to the anguished scribbles and sketches of a teen who’s at the brink of losing hope. Next to this, you have a map where you can look at all the documents you found in each place you go.
The collectibles in Life is Strange 2 are more visible than in the two previous games, too. Whereas in the first game you could take photographs, and in Before the Storm graffiti certain things, here you can collect trinkets and patches that you can attach to your backpack in the Tab menu. Once equipped, you can see them in-game too, which makes customizing your bag worth the while, even if just for a cool second.
The first episode of Life is Strange 2 brings the story to a great, if tragic, start, although it does feel a bit empty. From the moment the opening credits roll, it’s emotionally packed to the brim, and even the slow parts are full of tension, waiting for the pot to boil over, no matter how innocent and fun Sean’s trying to make things for his brother. Despite this, however, there’s not actually that much to do in itself, leaving this episode feeling a bit like a very lengthy exposition. It could be a great choice for the whole over-arching story, however on its own (and the story of this episode is strong enough to stand on its own), it’s somewhat too much video and too little game.
The first episode of Life is Strange 2 already begins to tackle a lot of tough themes but is a bit empty gameplay-wise, even for a Life is Strange game. Despite this, it’s a great start and leaves me with high expectations for the next episode.