Life is Strange is far from being in short supply, with the likes of Captain Spirit and Before the Storm tying fans over before the release of season 2. I hadn’t followed any of the pre-release news leading up to episode one, partly to avoid spoilers, but mostly because I knew I’d play it regardless. Dontnod Entertainment’s quality storytelling and choice-driven narratives had captured the hearts of many, but the announcement of a sequel seemed unnecessary given the ending of season 1 and its prequel. Nonetheless, I was eager to give episode one of season 2 a go to see what it does to add to the legacy of the series.
Life is Strange 2 follows Sean and Daniel, who are on the run from their hometown of Seattle after an event shakes them to their emotional cores. The opening hour is deceptively comforting and light-hearted, but it doesn’t take long for a dark and heart-wrenching twist to take place. It instantly sets itself apart from season 1 with much higher stakes, and this is felt through the vibe that is set by the on-the-run nature of the narrative. It’s hard to mention much else without delving into spoilers, but episode 1 serves as an excellent starting point for season 2’s narrative.
Players take control of the older brother, Sean, and the choices you make will not only affect the world around you but also how Daniel behaves as well. It’s a bit early to say how drastically things will change over the course of the series, but what minor repercussions I have seen so far in episode 1 bodes well for the future. A vast majority of the characters you interact with are very likeable, but there are some that seek to make Sean’s life hell for him. All are excellently voice-acted and well-written, lending themselves to the role that the story needs them to fill.
Gameplay hasn’t seen many changes from the formula used in season 1 and Before the Storm. Sean has an inventory of cash that he uses for spending, and while it adds a layer of choice on top of what is already present, I never found myself hard-pressed when it came to spending it. While it’s unclear to me as to whether there will be possible control of super-natural elements later on in the series, I’m hoping there’s something buried under the surface that has yet to be unveiled.
You’ll spend most of your time in conversation with other characters and wandering around small environments. It felt like there was less of the latter this time around, which allowed for some strong world-building but also limits some of the player freedom found within multiple explorable areas. There is also a complete lack of puzzles and objectives to break up the pace of gameplay, reinforcing the issue even more.
The visuals still retain the soft, vibrant colours that the series is known for, allowing for some beautiful lighting and gorgeous environments. Life is Strange 2 stands out visually in moments where these aspects shine, but the art style still holds it back. For every detailed character model, some textures stick out amongst the rest. It’s an issue that has plagued the series since the beginning and is just as notable.
I found myself surprised at how much I enjoyed the first episode of Life is Strange 2. Not that I had low expectations, but I didn’t expect it to hit on the emotional notes it did in a way that differentiated itself from the first season. It’s too early to say how much of a factor choices will be in the overarching narrative, but the ones I had to make had weight behind them, and the ones that did pay off within the initial episode felt worthwhile and satisfying. If future episodes can maintain a similar quality of storytelling while also managing to change up the usual formula, Life is Strange 2 could be an experience that trumps the original.