Life is Strange was always going to be a difficult game to follow on from. The title picked up a huge amount of deserved praise with the release of each episode, successfully tying together a coming-of-age story with a mystery plot and hints of apocalyptic dread. Its cast of characters and dedication to talking about subjects rarely crossed in video games immediately made it a favorite of many, and as such there have been big expectations of Life is Strange 2.
This sequel, however, takes things in something of a different direction. The game eschews obvious links to both Life is Strange and prequel Life is Strange: Before the Storm, with its own set of characters and new story to unravel. The title is set in the same universe as the previous games and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, and gameplay-wise will feel very familiar to players. However, thematically there are some major changes.
This is perhaps in line with how the first game challenged player expectations as it progressed, and so having that same slowburn towards something darker was never going to fly. Instead, Life is Strange 2 ups the ante quite early into debut episode "Roads," through a shocking descent at the end of its prologue. What at first appears to be another showcase of youthful vigor as seen in the first game's Blackwell Academy is dropped permanently, with the game's real focus then made very much on show.
Life is Strange 2 focuses on brothers Sean and Daniel Diaz as they trek south through America, and their situation is very different to that of Max and Chloe. There is a sense of isolation here, with the shadow of what the reality of an "us against the world" mentality truly means in a desperate situation. The society and structure found in Arcadia Bay are gone, with the two brothers left alone in a hostile space with nothing close to the support of Joyce Price for company.
Equally, this means that the game sees a major change in how it handles moral quandaries. Without Max's time travelling powers, there's little here that relates to helping other people - and instead, fantastical powers are something barely understood and the subject of much fear and confusion. Instead, there's a far greater real world emphasis when it comes to the game's binary choices.
A lot of this revolves around Sean's care for younger brother Daniel, all the while shaping the boy's values in this difficult time. There's a resemblance of the way that The Walking Dead built Lee and Clementine's relationship in the first game, and equally the mechanics of play with A.J. and Clem in the franchise's short-lived final season. The title's narrative and gameplay focus is, at its core, about both supporting and getting the support of Daniel, making sure that he grows in the way that the player deems right.
Within that, of course, lies the allure of character building and dialogue options that are effectively the central mechanics of these dramatic adventure games. As always, there's the facade of choice, but thankfully Life is Strange 2 is one of the titles that makes the player feel like their choices matter, even when few of the options really affect major outcomes. Because of this, the game packs an emotional impact, even during its more introspective moments.
Something that helps with this is that the title deals with some serious issues. Much like Life is Strange, its treatment may be a little too heavy-handed and on the nose at times, but on the whole it hits the mark. This time around, DONTNOD Entertainment has turned its eye on racism in modern America, and its scathing look at an all-too-real tragedy through the filter of a supernatural lens should leave some with a pause for thought, particularly when it comes to the idea of having faith in the justice system.
One of the biggest challenges facing the developer was delivering characters that matched up to those of Max and Chloe, however, and at the moment it's hard to think of Sean and Daniel as being quite at that level. Part of this may be down to the sheer reliance on the bond between the two brothers, with a much smaller supporting cast this time around, and without that variety some may find a lack of attachment. However, there's still plenty of potential here, with two strong characters and the expectation of more to come.
All in all, then, Life is Strange 2 is off to a strong start. It will be intriguing to see how the game builds across its multiple episodes, and whether there will be further tie-ins to the world of Life is Strange as a whole. With that in mind, "Roads" has fulfilled its role very well, allowing the game to stand on its own two feet from a narrative perspective and leaving players wanting to see how this story unfolds.
Life is Strange 2: Episode 1 releases September 26 for PC, PS4, and Xbox One. Screen Rant was provided with a PS4 code for the purposes of this review.