‘Life Is Strange 2’ (2018)- Game Review

Introduction

Playing Life Is Strange 2 is comparable to grabbing someone’s hand to be lifted up and slapping yourself with your other hand. You will definitely suffer, but you will definitely be happy about it. This episodic game was released as a physical game in December 2019; it was released digitally from September 2018, one episode at a time. This is the way that I originally played.  

Sound

The first thing that needs to be said in terms of sound in Life Is Strange 2 is that the soundtrack is phenomenal. It is very well timed with the story and adds to the emotional factor of the game. The first Episode in particular, when the character’s emotions are particularly tense, the music sets this up wonderfully.

The first Life Is Strange game-used music during the opening of each Episode, whereas Life Is Strange 2 uses the voice of the main character to retell what happened in the previous Episode. The way that they did this is in a bedtime story-like fashion, and it fits in very well with the story of the game overall. In terms of voice acting, this was, again, unbelievably good. Pure emotion could be heard through the character’s voices, which is so crucial in a game with so many essential life lessons. The way that the characters reacted lined up with their voices. Attention needs to be drawn to the voice acting of Roman Dean George (who plays Daniel Diaz) in Episode 4. Daniel goes through so much in Episode 4, and because of that, his emotions are all over the place. You can plainly hear this in his voice, and George did a fantastic job at tackling such difficult scenes.

Lastly, the background noise. One thing, in particular, that was nice as a player was that when the player walked closer to someone, their conversation because clearer and louder, but it was still realistic in the sense that you can slightly hear the other conversations around you too. A great example of this would be Episode 3, when Sean and Daniel are staying with a group of people. Although the downside to this would be that the surrounding conversations could be very distracting while trying to listen to a particular discussion. There is a moment in Episode 5, however, where the sounds clashing works really well. Sean listens in to a phone call, and you can hear nature in the background, and it is a rather lovely moment before the chaos of the last Episode truly begins.

Rate: 7/ 10

Graphics

The Life Is Strange series has a very unique look. The graphics aren’t the best in the business and never have been. If the graphics had been great in this game, it probably would not look like a Life Is Strange game. That being said, the graphics are significantly better than the ones in Life Is Strange and Life Is Strange: Before The Storm. It doesn’t take a long time to realise how much DONTNOD has improved when playing this game. The characters, particularly Sean, glitched into walls and tables occasionally, but again, this is a significant improvement, and the issues were often quickly fixed by the developers.

One thing that looked particularly good was the transaction scenes. What was shown worked well with the music, and it all flowed nicely. It was very much the calm before the storm with each transaction. The transaction scenes gave the player to sit back and think about what had happened, giving them a breather while allowing them to see more of the world that was created.

Rate: 6/10

Gameplay

It is difficult to talk about the gameplay without referencing the first Life Is Strange game. Although the player had control of the older brother, it felt a little unbalanced as Daniel was doing all of the work. At times, it felt like you were playing as Chloe in Life Is Strange: Before the Storm. If the player comes straight from Life Is Strange, they may be disappointed by the gameplay in Life Is Strange 2.

However, that being said, Life Is Strange 2 is based heavily on choices, and it feels like each decision you make has some sort of consequence. If the player had played as Daniel, the game would likely not be as intense of it is. There is one particular part in Episode 2 that the player has to do in order to progress the story, but the way it is set out is to make the player feel like they have a choice, and what happens is the consequence of this choice. It’s almost like the player is forced into feeling bad because of a decision they were forced to make for the sake of progressing the story.

Another thing that should be mentioned is that it is not always obvious what you are meant to do. There are so many things that can be done in this game, a significant increase to the first game at the very least, that it is not always obvious and linear like it is in the first game. This is likely a downside to not having control of the mystical power in this game. In the first game, you knew what you were doing, and if you messed up, you could just make Max rewind time. In Life Is Strange 2, you obviously don’t have that because, for one, the power in this game isn’t time travel and two, the player character isn’t the one in control of these powers. So what does the player character do? Train his little brother. And sometimes, it is not always obvious how you are meant to do this in terms of controls.

Another thing in terms of gameplay that really needs to be mentioned is the little ‘mini-games’ that Life Is Strange 2 has. Although they are not strictly mini-games, they provide a break from the main story of the game. The two main points that come to mind are in Episode 1 – teaching Daniel how to skip stones – and in Episode 2 – playing a dice game with Daniel. Both of these situations happen when the brothers are alone, and things are pretty calm in terms of story. Both these actions have consequences, but the main point that needs to be brought up is that the gameplay itself is drastically different from anything else in the game, yet slightly similar at the same time. There are still choices to be made and, as previously mentioned, these things have consequences. However, this does suit the game very well. It fits in with both the gameplay and the story of Life Is Strange 2. 

Rate: 8/10

Replay Value

Life Is Strange 2 has 7 endings in total. Episode 3, in particular, has so many different ways that it can go. Life Is Strange 2 is one of those games where you could likely play it over and over again and not get the same results. Over time, your perceptions of each character changes, causing you to make different decisions the next time you play the game. The game is so different based on the decisions that the player makes, DONTNOD really has to be commended for this as there was very obviously so much effort and thought put into this game to make sure that everyone had an experience unique to them, and so each playthrough could be different.

Rate: 7/10

Story

There is a lot that can be said about the story of Life Is Strange 2. It was well written, well thought out, and plays on the emotions of the player.

Each Episode starts off slowly, using tasks such as gathering items to get the player used to the mechanics of the game again. This was more beneficial to those who played the game as each Episode came out. It is pleasant for Episode 1 regardless, but by Episode 4, it gets a little tedious (although Episode 4 would be a bad example due to Sean’s inability to do much at the start of the Episode regardless). Each Episode has it’s high points and low points, which is different for each player. One thing that needs to be mentioned straight away is that This is not Life Is Strange. Max and Chloe are done. This is the story of Sean and Daniel. A lot of the fanbase of Life Is Strange fail to appreciate this game due to the lack of their beloved Max and Chloe from the first game. Rather than Life Is Strange 2 being a sequel that most of the fanbase wanted, it is an entirely different game, similar to games such as the Grand Theft Auto series and Fallout 3, Fallout 4 and Fallout New Vegas. Rather than the continuation of the story of the first same, it is a continuation of the world that the original game was based in. There are several hints towards Blackwell Academy, and some characters are mentioned during the game. The next few paragraphs will contain spoilers.

The first Episode has a severe lack of Daniel using his powers. It is much more about connecting with the characters and feeling the pain that they are going through. The death of their father in the first Episode was not so much a shock because of the trailers, but it still hit hard as the player spends time with their father, and they are even given a choice to hug him. During this time, you learn his morals and the love that he has for his kids (which is a lot). These kids are suffering. Episode 1 spends a lot of time with setting out the characters, explaining why Sean is doing the things he is doing. The goal of Puerto Lobos is evident right from the start. It is mentioned even before the death of their father, and the place very evidently means a lot to the man.

There is one particular character that needs to be talked about in terms of Episode 1, and that character is Brody. Brody is one of the characters that this game failed, in terms of there was simply not enough time to include him as much as he deserved. The reasoning is justified, granted, but in later Episodes, it really would have been a good call to bring him back, if only for a little bit. However, again, the reason for not doing this is easily justified by the brothers having a difficult time contacting him, them not wanting to get him into trouble and also him being busy with the death of his mother. Brody was such a unique character that the player almost instantly connected to. He was the first person that the brothers were able to trust; he helped them so much that it was likely that they would not be able to get by without the help he gave them.

Episode 2 is hard-hitting. Mushroom, the puppy that Daniel got in Episode 1, is attacked by a cougar and it is one of the most heartbreaking deaths in a game like this because it was so shocking. It was entirely out of the blue. It wasn’t that everything was going okay for Sean and Daniel, but they had a plan. Mushroom was the light of Daniel’s life. Daniel has just discovered that he has these strange powers, his father has just died, he’s on the run from the police and to top it all off, he has a bad cough. Sean lets Mushroom out to go to the bathroom (this is a choice but unavoidable- trust me, I tried), and she doesn’t come back. It’s a huge shock. There are really no other words to describe it, other than ‘shock’ and ‘heartbreaking’.

In Episode 2, you also get to meet characters such as Sean and Daniel’s grandparents, and Chris, who was the protagonist for The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, which acted as a demo for Life Is Strange 2. Episode 2 feels long because a lot happens. Sean and Daniel work on training Daniel’s powers, Mushroom dies, they go all the way to their grandparent’s house, and Daniel makes a friend in Chris. However, nothing major really seems to happen. It’s almost like a slow burn episode, that is setting up for Episode 3. However, it again works majorly on character development and the bond between Sean and Daniel. There’s a lot of decisions that have pretty serious consequences, a lot of which it is not obvious straight away.

Episode 3 is where things start to get dangerous. Sean and Daniel work on a marijuana farm, and they stay at a camp. Daniel’s powers are pretty well hidden, but he does use them more freely than before. There is a clear tension between Sean and Daniel in this Episode, as Sean has the opportunity to socialise with people around his age for the first time in months, and Daniel seems to favour Finn, one of the other boys.  It is similar to when you spend too much time with someone you love, no matter how much you love them, they will begin to irritate you after a while. Sean and Daniel, at this point, have been on the road for so long, where it’s always just the two of them against the world. For Sean, keeping in mind the end goal of Puerto Lobos is easy as he is older, but that is not the case for Daniel. He is a kid. Time goes by so slowly when you are a child, and the longer they are not at their goal, the longer the goal is not achievable. Episode 3 needs to be commended for its realism in terms of the relationship between Sean and Daniel. The tension is evident, and from the previous Episodes, there is an obvious reason for that.

The ending of Episode 3 is where things get insanely crazy and dangerous: The heist.

The heist is proposed by Finn after learning of Daniel’s powers. This is one of the points in the game where there are so many different endings; it is difficult to explain exactly what happens. Consequences of previous Episodes come alive here, where it is reflected on Daniel’s behaviour. Regardless of which direction the game goes, Sean gets hurt. Daniel goes missing. The ending is scary for those who really care about these characters at this point. Their fates are really left hanging, and for those who played this game as it came out, they were left hanging for just over 3 months. The writers did a fantastic job here because it got everyone talking about it. In particular, people who were not interested in a game without Max and Chloe suddenly gained an interest.

Episode 4 was… difficult to play. Not for the lack of wanting to, nor for the lack of being interested. It was the sheer amount of hard-hitting, real-world issues it dealt with. It was difficult to sit through because it was like being smacked in the face. The writers did an amazing (for lack of a better word) job at handling topics such as indoctrination, racism in America and cult activity- all in one Episode. This Episode also makes you realise that by this point, Sean has committed many illegal activities. He is no longer running from the police because of a misunderstanding, or just to protect his little brother, but rather because he has done several bad things in order to survive and help his little brother. Episode 4 makes you question your own morals because although you are not actually doing these things, you are playing a character that was once innocent… and now he’s not, because he had to survive. This Episode really hits you in the face and makes you ask the question of “when is surviving a criminal offence?”. The original Life Is Strange game handled hard-hitting topics well, such as bullying, suicide and child grooming. However, Life Is Strange 2 improved on this drastically, made these issues so direct that it is painful as a player to watch these things and play through them. If there is a single Episode that deserves an award for best writing, then it is Episode 4, without a doubt.

The tension between Daniel and Sean is still on the player’s mind as Sean finds Daniel wrapped up in a religious cult. They say that he is special to them because of his powers, but this cult is ultimately dangerous. This, and reuniting with Karen (Sean and Daniel’s mother), are the key parts of this Episode.  The latter sets up a large part of the last Episode, and brings back the running theme of Daniel not understanding why their mother was a bad person, but Sean not understanding what actually happened when Karen left either. Learning the truth about what happened with Karen feels a little bit anticlimactic, because this woman has been thought of negatively by Sean for years, and talked about negatively since Episode 1. The player was made to believe there was something big there, or Karen had more of a reason to leave than she did. However, this – again – adds to the reality of the game. It makes you sit back and think “huh… this actually happens in real life” because real life isn’t a soap opera or a game. And sometimes in games, character’s don’t get a redeeming explanation to the bad things they did in the past. What they do get, however, is redeeming actions, and Karen’s is one of the best in the Life Is Strange series. This woman never intended to be a mother again, but she was. Whether or not she was okay with that did not matter because her son was in drastic danger. She was there when her son needed her most, and by that, I mean Sean. At this point, Sean was well and truly at his breaking point. The dream of Puerto Lobos was well and truly faded in his mind; his little brother was gone, and so was the use of one of his eyes. He needed hope that things would be okay again, and Karen was that hope.

Episode 5 is the last Episode of this beautifully written game. There is not much to say, as again, this Episode is drastically different for everyone as it is the end. However, there is one thing that needs to be mentioned, and that is the cameo of one Mr David Madsen. This cameo is such a warming nod to the first game and a sweet ending to Max and Chloe’s story (providing Arcadia Bay is no more). Through this cameo, you learn that David and Chloe are now on good terms, and Sean is able to listen in to a conversation between them. You also learn that Max and Chloe are still travelling together. This cameo was unexpected but very welcome.

The endings of Life Is Strange 2 are all good in their own way. Not a single one is disappointing. It depends on things such as Sean’s bond with Daniel, and how well Daniel was taught morals throughout the game. This is interesting because teaching a child morals is hard when you are his older brother, and when the player just wants Daniel to love them. However, ultimately, the conclusion of the game is phenomenal in every way possible. Most endings get an appearance of beloved characters in some way, and each ending ties up the game nicely.

End Of Spoilers

Every single playthrough is different, so the story will be different for everyone, and therefore it is difficult to discuss the story of this game. One thing that runs through it right from the start, in every playthrough and with every single person, is the feeling of brotherhood. The connection that Sean and Daniel have is special. The story well and truly focuses on this, and as a result, the story is one of love, trust and a pinch of reality. This game was remarkably written, well thought out, and DONTNOD should be highly commended at their improvements at tackling real-life, pressing issues that are faced in modern-day society.

Rate: 9/10

Opinion

Lastly, my opinion on Life Is Strange 2. I don’t think it would come as a shock to anyone who has just read over 3000 words on this game that I liked it. I enjoyed playing it, and I very much enjoyed the story. I felt completely connected with the characters and more than anything, I wanted things to work out okay for Sean and Daniel. Life Is Strange 2 hit me hard. It threw the reality of issues that I don’t have to deal with as a British, white female. I liked that tremendously. I learnt a lot from the game, and I learnt how ignorant I had been in the past about issues in America, as issues that came up in the game are not as talked about in the UK.

This game is a work of art. There is clearly so much thought put into it, and I cannot help but love it. More importantly, I loved the improvements that DONTNOD had made since the original Life Is Strange game (and there were so many improvements).

The main thing to mention about this game, in my opinion, is that it makes you question your own morals, as I’ve already mentioned. It wasn’t until Episode 4 that I realised that Sean was an actual criminal, and then it hit me that he had been stealing (in my playthrough) since Episode 1. But it’s scary, because you understand Sean’s motives for doing these things, and the game leads you to believe that Sean isn’t a bad person because he has a good reason for doing these things. It makes you wonder, where is the line?

TLDR: do I think you should play this game? Yes. Completely. Especially if you enjoyed the first game. Please do not let the lack of Max and Chloe put you off such an incredible story.

Overall Rate: 8/ 10

I actually edited a video of my reaction to a certain part of this game, but it wouldn’t let me add it so here’s the playlist to the streams I did.

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