Summary: After tragedy strikes, two brothers set out on a journey across America to discover a place to call home. The harrowing trek from the Pacific Northwest to the southern border changes both boys and teaches them what it really means to be family.
When the original Life is Strange was released back in 2015 it took me completely by surprise. I was unfamiliar with the work of developer DONTNOD and the episodic tale of a pair of teenage girls wasn’t exactly at the top of my must-play list. Positive word of mouth, however, convinced me to give the game a try, and I was so blown away by the story of Chloe and Max that the game was not only crowned our Game of the Year for 2015 but later landed on our list of the Top 50 Games of All Time. It would be incredibly difficult for a follow up to live up to those high standards, but I’m excited to say that Life is Strange 2 is a worthy addition to the series and an incredible game in its own right.
The story follows Sean and Daniel Diaz, Mexican-American brothers who find themselves on the run from the police after a tragic accident leaves their father dead and the authorities in search of answers. To make a complicated situation even more harrowing, the accident reveals that the younger brother Daniel possesses unexplainable superhuman powers that they must try and keep hidden from those they come across.
As the two of them travel south from Seattle, they’ll come across a varied and eclectic cast of supporting characters, some of whom will offer Sean and Daniel sanctuary while others who will attempt to harm them or use Daniel’s abilities for their own purposes. While the story revolves around the two brothers, it was a pleasant surprise that many of the people that you’ll meet on this journey are just as interesting and nuanced as the lead characters themselves. From Brody, a blogger traveling the country, to Cassidy, a drifter who rides the rails from town to town, each character feels unique and real in a way that most games are unable to pull off. It’s a testament to the writers that they were able to create such a compelling supporting cast to flesh out the story.
As diverse as the supporting cast is, the environments you find yourself in on your journey are equally so. From the lush forests of the Pacific Northwest to the arid dunes of the Arizona desert, each episode finds you in a beautiful new location that is vibrant, colorful, and full of wonderful little details to discover. As stunning as the landscapes may be though, they conceal an ugly secret that is at the core of what makes Life is Strange 2 such a powerful story. Underneath all of its beauty lies a country corrupted by bigotry, ignorance, and hate. It’s an unflattering look at what many people go through in this country, and the developers don’t pull any punches when it comes to telling this kind of story.
From the opening hours of the game, Sean and Daniel are faced with the kind of prejudices that have become all too familiar in recent years. Folks will yell at them, telling them to go back to their country, accusing them of being criminals, and proclaiming “that’s why we need that wall“. I appreciate that DONTNOD isn’t afraid to bring politics into gaming, especially in a time when so many developers go to great lengths to try and avoid it. It feels real and unflinching and can be uncomfortable to watch. It’s unsettling enough to see for someone like myself who doesn’t deal with it normally due to the privileges that come from being white, sadly I can imagine it will hit quite a bit closer to home for many others.
As far as gameplay is concerned, it’s not that dissimilar from the original Life is Strange in that it’s mostly conversational and has you interacting with the cast of characters and choosing from different dialogue options to dictate how the situations play out. There is some light puzzle solving but nothing that will have you scratching your head for too long. The main difference between the two games is in the use of the powers that the characters possess.
In the first game, Max had the ability to rewind time which factored into puzzle solving throughout the game. In the sequel, you’re not controlling the character with the powers, so while Sean may not have the ability to move things with his mind, as the older brother it’s up to you to teach Daniel how to use these abilities and help him to determine when it’s appropriate to use them.
This sibling relationship is at the core of Life is Strange 2 and how it evolves and develops over the 5 episodes kept me enthralled over the course of the game. Like most brothers, when the story begins they fight and annoy the shit out of each other, but when circumstances change Sean takes on the role of unintended parent and must watch over and protect his little brother. It’s up to you to decide how you mentor Daniel. Will he use his powers to do good? Or will he use them to lash out violently against anyone who gets in your way? The choices you make will determine which of the seven different endings you see at the end of the journey. All I’ll say about the ending that I experienced is that it was bittersweet and stuck with me for days afterward.
It’s also worth mentioning the fantastic soundtrack that accompanies the game. Like the first game, Life is Strange 2 features a collection of indie music that fits perfectly with the tone of the story and helps to underscore the emotional moments. It also features some fun nods to the first game, and if you haven’t played The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit yet (available for free) I highly recommend you do that first as it serves as a prequel of sorts to this game.
Life is Strange 2 is a moving tale about what it means to be a family, as well as the importance of taking responsibility for and living with the choices that you make in life. It’s tragic, thrilling, beautiful, and heartbreaking. And like the adventures of Max and Chloe before, the journey of Sean and Daniel Diaz is one that will stick with me for a long time.