Life is Strange 2 Episode 1: Roads Review
Dontnod released the original Life is Strange to critical acclaim in 2015, and since the conclusion of Max and Chloe’s tale fans have been eagerly awaiting the second season of the narrative series. After three years, a prequel, and a free episode starring a different protagonist, Life is Strange 2 has finally released its first episode, ‘Roads’. The second season is off to a very strong start and benefits from the new characters and scenery.
Life is Strange 2 puts you in the shoes of Sean, a Hispanic teenager living in modern day Seattle. His life is normal, if a bit boring, and the title starts with Sean and his best friend Lyla preparing for a party. We’re introduced to Sean’s little brother Daniel and get a glimpse at his social life, and everything paints the picture of a perfect Friday afternoon. Things quickly go awry, however, when an altercation happens and Daniel unwittingly unleashes his (previously unknown) telekinetic powers. The brothers are forced to go on the run, blamed for two murders with little hope of proving their innocence.
Life is Strange 2 raises the stakes much faster than the first game, turning Sean and Daniel’s life upside-down as they flee from the police, trying to survive with only the clothes on their back and the allowance in Sean’s pocket. Daniel doesn’t remember the incident, and Sean isn’t eager to tell the 9-year-old of what has happened and ruin the boy’s innocence. Burdened by grief, stress, and hunger, Sean needs to figure out what to do while also keeping Daniel safe.
The player’s decisions will not only affect how people react to Sean, but it will also influence Daniel. He’s an impressionable young man, and despite their difference, he looks to his older brother. This is a huge influence on the choices you’ll make in Life is Strange 2. Most narrative adventure titles only have consequences for the player character and how the world treats them, but here your decisions also affect Daniel and this adds extra weight to your decisions. There were a few points during the episode that maybe I would have chosen to maybe steal some food, or been a little more aggressive if Daniel wasn’t there. Since I’m making decisions for more than Sean’s benefit, I tried to make decisions that would be good for both the brothers, even if at times I failed to be a good big brother.
Of course, being a model citizen isn’t enough if your skin color is too dark. As one character says, “Everything is political, Sean”, and Life is Strange 2 does not shy away from its political implications. While Sean and Daniel are clearly American citizens, their father is a Mexican immigrant, and there are many examples of racism shown throughout the episode. The original altercation that sends the brothers on the run is steeped in racial and political commentary, and the two have to face more micro-aggressions and blatantly racist individuals throughout the episode. It’s great that Dontnod decided to tackle these issues head-on instead of trying to sugarcoat some of the issues facing America today.
Narratively, Roads sets Life is Strange 2 off to an amazing start. In terms of gameplay, we’re treated to the narrative adventure standard--the typical walking around, clicking on everything, and absorbing the atmosphere the game is attempting to create. The graphical upgrade from the first season helps a lot here, as the player gets to see a variety of scenery.
Overall the gameplay works well, but I have had a few moments of annoyance throughout the episode. At one point Sean is tasked with buying items with his limited allowance, so I stocked up on as much food as possible. Who knows the next time I’ll be able to stock up? Unfortunately, the brothers devoured all the food and drinks that I bought… an action I can’t blame the two for.
I also wasn’t impressed by the mechanics for drawing (essentially the replacement for Max’s photo taking in this new season). While it’s understandable that drawing takes a long time, twirling the joystick around isn’t really that great. On top of that, while trying to understand what the game wanted from me while drawing, I missed some conversations with Daniel that I would have much rather have engaged in.
But ultimately this is nitpicking on what ends up being a fantastic start for Dontnod’s newest season. I’m cautiously optimistic for the rest of the season--far too many episodic adventures have strong starts and mediocre finishes--but this first episode promises a solid and tense story for the season. Let’s just hope that Dontnod can keep this momentum for the other four episodes.