The episodic adventure game Life is Strange had players around the world eager to solve a missing person case while teaching them about the importance of friendship, the hardships of being young, and the dangers that lurk in places one wouldn't expect. It also put developer Dontnod on the map with its surprisingly dark narrative and its touching themes, especially since the team approached these subjects with a sense of gut-wrenching realism and didn't sugar coat them, while also keeping the tone just light enough to make the experience bearable.
Life is Strange 2 follows the path of its predecessor and while the themes may be different, the importance of the narrative and the impact of it isn't lessened. Life is Strange 2 follows Sean and Daniel, two brothers who are faced with plenty of hardships after their father is killed by a police officer who used excessive force following a minor quarrel between the brothers and a bully outside of their home. What follows is a tumultuous journey as the brothers leave their home for reasons we won't share and set out to find refuge in the town in Mexico where their father grew up, as the mother of the duo isn't and hasn't been in the picture for quite some time. The journey is made even more difficult by the youngest brother Daniel's newfound power which grants him incredible telekinetic strength that becomes uncontrollable during stressful conditions, although this power will also help the pair during the journey ahead.
The player follows the pair through circumstances that will either test or strengthen their relationship depending on the choices made, with both minor and major consequences potentially following those choices. Dontnod has done a fantastic job in creating a duo of siblings that feels realistic and the team should be equally applauded for the authentic portrayal of Sean, who is the character that the player controls directly. Sean will grow into a somewhat different person depending on what you choose for him along the way, but his one objective is to keep his brother safe as they make their way to Mexico, be it by finding shelter during the colder months, food by any means necessary, or a shoulder to lean on when the going gets tough.
Life is Strange 2, like the original before it, has its focus set on very basic exploration and cause and effect gameplay, both dialogue and environmental. As a player, you'll go through a variety of locations as Sean, guiding younger brother Daniel through moral and self-preservative dilemmas through dialogue and choices tied to the environments found across the game's five episodes, all of which tackle different seasons as well as different hardships. Early on in the game, your main focus is to keep Daniel as safe as possible while on the road, building on the brotherly bond between the two while also keeping Daniel's temper in check and his stress levels low to avoid any unwanted, unexpected bloodshed that might be prompted by his immense power. You'll come across different towns, various issues in the face of homelessness, and a multitude of people along the way - and some of the choices you'll have to make along the way will have you face serious consequences.
As the now-hermit pair develop relationships with others, there's also a possibility to lose the trust or the respect of Daniel, who's an impressionable but independent young man, and dealing with racism, sexuality, homelessness and identity will soon prove difficult with a little brother in tow. As for the people encountered, it'll be up to you as the player to decide whom to trust with your secret, as the runaway pair is also being tracked by the police.
The game, as we've mentioned, tackles taboo subjects such as radical religion and cult mentality, racism, loss, loyalty, responsibility (both personal and parental), and friendship - and some moments are so impactful that they stuck with us long after we put the controller down, lingering at the back of our thoughts through the months of waiting between episodes. A mother mid-way through opening up about leaving her family behind; a lonely boy standing at the receiving end of a racist attack; a pair facing the realities of living in a cult. Life is Strange 2 is full of shocking moments, but it's more about shedding light on very real issues than exploring themes for their shock value and nothing feels done in poor taste.
While the gameplay stays the same across episodes with choices having to be made, puzzles needing to be solved, and powers needing to be used as you move through the seasons, the narrative seems to halt slightly every now and then, but not enough to set the game back too much. We found ourselves so intrigued by the narrative that hearing Sean comment on almost everything around him had us interested, essentially making collectable hunting a breeze. Not only that, but we can confirm that players who experienced the first game can find some familiar Easter egg-type items and maybe even a familiar face.
In the end, Life is Strange 2 portrays siblinghood exceptionally well and draws out unexpected emotions from the player throughout. It's a celebration of humanity and a condemnation of injustice and prejudice wrapped up in a surprisingly heavy yet soothing package that's sprinkled with some hard-hitting social commentary. Not only is the game phenomenally written - its final episode could potentially help open minds. Life is Strange 2 hits you where it hurts again and again, but it never loses its grip on the player despite this unflinching approach to storytelling.
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