Although it deals with supernatural elements in a realistic setting, like with the original, Life is Strange 2’s new characters and story deal heavily in themes of identity, racism, and belonging. It’s a product very much of its time, set in the U.S. prior to the 2016 election. The fear of immigrants and discrimination is not limited to America, but by focusing on this issue, Life is Strange 2 is without a doubt a political game. A cinematic story of two brothers on the run after a disastrous event involving a police officer killing an unarmed person – an immigrant. A tale and journey where guilt is assumed when encountering certain strangers, and the danger of not being discovered carries the additional weight of being detained without trial.
In telling a very human story, with relatable and empathetic characters in 16-year old Sean and 9-year old Daniel Diaz, Life is Strange 2 is not merely a politically-charged radical departure from the original. In fact, its themes help create a story that is quite unlike anything you’re likely to play this year. And the relationship between Sean and Daniel is filled with the sort of nuance and little touches that will feel universal to siblings the world over. From kicking your little brother out of your room for being too annoying, to indulging their wild imagination, to teaching them how to skip stones on a river bank. Compared to Life is Strange, this thread of relationship and bond is reminiscent to the friendship between Max and Chloe – albeit very different in terms of specific elements.
"Life is Strange 2 is not merely a politically-charged radical departure from the original. In fact, its themes help create a story that is quite unlike anything you’re likely to play this year."
In Life is Strange 2 we don’t get to experience or wander through the halls of a high-school, instead the story picks up with Sean preparing to attend a Halloween party at home. There aren’t any puzzles to solve, instead exploration flesh out the setting, story, and characters – with choices ranging from whether to steal some of your father’s beer to deciding on whether cookies or chips might be the right snack to, err, pack. It’s this setting, and the blend of regular day-to-day life that expertly paints a picture of Sean, Daniel, and their father living in suburban Seattle. Cynically one could correlate this approach with the impending racially and politically charged events and tragedy that follows as something there to reinforce a political stance – but that would be stretch. Because where Life is Strange 2 excels in its narrative ambition is with its empathy.
A word one might not associate with the world of videogames, but Life is Strange 2 is filled with empathy. Even the choices you get to make in this first episode don’t betray its humane approach to telling Sean and Daniel’s story. One that indeed features some supernatural goings on, but also one that adheres stringently to the idea that deep down we all have the capacity to be good. Even the villains, or antagonists, aren’t painted as one-note or simply evil for the sake of dramatic tension. From the police officer to the politically charged neighbour to the elderly owner of a gas station, they’re mostly underdeveloped as characters – but through well scripted sequences, dialogue, and cinematography that highlights Sean’s perspective it’s more a representation of a world gone mad as opposed to one full of villainy.
If there’s one detriment or negative one could place on Life is Strange 2 is that for the most part it’s narrative ambition far outweighs any attempt to expand or develop the narrative-driven, Telltale-like adventure game. This the most choose-your-own-adventure Life is Strange yet, with little in the way of being in direct control of a situation or mechanics that provide a tangible way in which to interact with the world. Exploration is here, but mostly used to add a bit of extra detail. It’s a meditative approach to non-linear exposition that works, but still feels a little lacking.
In the end though, Life is Strange 2 features a story that packs real emotional weight, and one that surprisingly deals with real-world issues in a way that feels like a milestone achievement in interactive storytelling. But, by that same token it is indeed more of an interactive piece of cinema than traditional game. Here’s hoping that the next few episodes provide real tangible ways to interact with the world, from puzzles, to traversal, to even some form of action.