After the release and success of Life is Strange in 2015, the French development team Dontnod Entertainment became known for its special brand of stylized, choice-based games. In 2017, the follow-up to this was a prequel titled Life is Strange: Before the Storm, following the same characters as the first. For the first time in 2018 and 2019, Dontnod released a game following a new set of characters in a new town in the sequel, Life is Strange 2. While maintaining much of the same atmosphere and tone of the original games, this sequel delves into much more poignant subject matter, often losing some of the story’s charm in the process.
Playing as 16-year-old Mexican-American Sean Diaz, the player begins this game leading a normal life with nine-year-old brother Daniel and their kind, single father. When Sean’s father is unfairly killed by police, his younger brother is revealed to have powers of telekinesis. The story follows the two brothers’ journey from Seattle to Mexico in order to evade the police and protect one another. All the while, Daniel’s power grows and Sean has to teach him now to interact with the world.
Unlike the first game, Life is Strange 2 is not based in one single location and has many different characters introduced along the way. This rotating cast of characters both helps and hinders the two brothers on their journey, but their relationship is the only consistent one in the game. At first, this is refreshing, but both the people helping and hurting begin to look the same after repeated use of much of the same archetypes. Anyone who helps the boys is a free-spirited hippie traveler, while anyone who hinders them is unabashedly racist and cruel.
This game does not shy away from political messages. It covers hot topics such as immigration, racism, LGBT, and society as a whole. While often more overt than the first game with things like same-sex romance options, this also means Life is Strange 2 is pretty blatant with all of its messages. With character after character often hitting the same points, it becomes almost repetitive at times when the story takes a backseat to the writer’s ideas of society and its issues, instead of the smaller narrative of a teenage boy and his brother.
Unlike Life is Strange, the main character’s younger brother is the one with the powers, not the player. This adds an interesting element to the story due to the fact that the player affects the world through his relationship to his brother instead of affecting the story directly. This is true for much of the game, with the player choosing who to spend time with and what to value, which rubs off on Daniel over the course of the game. While much of the character-based decisions are interesting, there is very little the player can actually do to concretely change their world, calling into question how “choice-based” the game truly is.
There is very little consequence to many of the player’s choices and even when one chooses a different option, the story will often make them go that direction anyway. The choice and dialogue trees aren’t the strong suit of the game. The atmosphere and emotion are where Life is Strange 2 shines. With a melancholy and wistful soundtrack and beautiful environments to look at, it truly is the little moments that make up the good parts of the game. Getting away from the messages and larger picture, it’s the sweet, emotional moments that make this game endearing: moments like Sean finding friendship, discovering his sexuality (whatever you choose it to be), and refusing to give up on his younger brother.
Sadly, this game does not completely lean into its strong suits. Often the most touching and emotional sequences are trapped between filler sections and inconsequential gameplay. This stretches a story that could have been a few hours into five episodes, around 15 hours or more in total. Tasks such as doing chores, finding items in a forest or buying food are rendered dull and time wasting, often adding little to nothing to the overall experience. The positives of character interaction and drama often don’t truly show themselves until the very end of each episode.
While many of the choices have little consequence in the game, the overall way you play and choices you make do end up affecting Daniel’s outlook on the world. There are two options for the player’s final decision, but four outcomes based on how you have treated Daniel throughout the course of the story. While much more subtle, this does make the character feel more realistic and outside of the player’s control, unlike many other choice-based games.
Life is Strange 2 is an interesting departure from the previous games in the series. While the previous games perhaps got their messages lost in the story, this game gets its story lost in its messaging. Even with its more obvious ideals, the game still manages to include sympathetic character interactions and some heartbreaking scenes. Life is Strange 2 doesn’t quite seem to know how to lean into the things it does get right, getting the positives lost between filler and the larger message it pushes.
Life is Strange 2 is rated M for Mature.
Genevieve Hankins is a pop culture critic for Oswego East High School’s online news magazine the Howl