On September 27th, Square Enix and Dontnod Entertainment released the first episode of Life is Strange 2. After taking some time to think, I believe I’m now in a good place to talk about my thoughts. SPOILER WARNING: This analysis and review will not be spoiler free! If you haven’t played the first episode yet, this is where you should stop reading.
A Review & Analysis Of Life Is Strange 2, Episode 1
Life is Strange 2, episode 1 takes place in October of 2016. While the year wasn’t relevant in Life is Strange 1, the context of America’s 2016 politics influences Life is Strange 2. We follow two Mexican-American brothers living in Seattle with their father.
Sean Diaz, the older brother, is 16, and his younger brother, Daniel, is 9 years old. After an accident with a police officer leads to their father’s death, the two brothers leave home and travel toward Mexico. (The police officer also appears to die due to supernatural reasons; the “superpower” of this game.)
Sean and Daniel are everything to each other, as they have no one else to rely on. Not only is Sean responsible for taking care of Daniel, but he is also his only remaining role model. (Sean also tries keeping their father’s death from Daniel for most of the episode.)
The death of the police officer complicates their struggles. The two aren’t simply missing but also wanted for questioning. This looming fate hangs over them in the form of newspaper articles and news reports seen throughout episode 1. (Sean cannot risk contacting his old friends out of fear of involving them in the investigation.)
The Mechanics Of Life Is Strange 2
The player controls Sean in Life is Strange 2, which is fascinating because he doesn’t seem to have any superpowers. The time-reverse power came to the player quite early on in the first game. However, for the entirety of Life is Strange 2 episode 1, there are no superpower mechanics. Instead, the game focuses on the player making decisions that will influence Daniel.
This creative decision makes the stakes immediately higher. It brings something new to the game knowing that Daniel is watching every decision the player (Sean) makes. He pays attention to how Sean treats others, something that wasn’t present in the first game.
Though the two games take place in the same universe, the overall tone and mechanics are different. All we see of Life is Strange 1 in the second game is Arcadia Bay when Sean looks over it. (Or where it used to be, depending on the decisions made in the previous game.)
Though some players want to see Max (and Chloe, depending) again, I found this light reference beautiful in context. Seeing Arcadia Bay from a distance, when it was the player’s entire world in the first game, puts things into perspective.
Comparing Life Is Strange 1 And Life Is Strange 2
The biggest difference between the two games is that the player does not have the power in Life is Strange 2. In fact, the end of episode 1 reveals that Sean’s younger brother, Daniel, is the one with powers.
Daniel has a supernatural power that appears similar to telekinesis. (Objects around him tend to move when he becomes emotional.) This, again, puts the focus on a character who is not the player character: Daniel.
Though you play as Sean, Daniel is the most important character in the game. That is what drives the distinction between Life is Strange 1 and Life is Strange 2.
The power of Life is Strange 1 encouraged players to make decisions they wouldn’t normally make. These decisions included: saying/doing rude things to gather information or doing something risky and going back in time if it didn’t work.
While it is an innovative and fun mechanic to toy with, it encouraged carelessness. (I know some of you were not sorry for beaning Frank.) It didn’t matter what happened to people just as long as you turned back time to fix it.
In a way, the final decision in the game comes down to the following:
Will you sacrifice an entire town just to save one person?
Empathizing With Daniel
Life is Strange 2 proves itself to be radically different. As Sean, you have to make decisions knowing they impact Daniel, and you can’t undo these decisions. It attempts to make the player feel as empathetic as possible by putting them in Sean’s shoes as Daniel’s caretaker.
Dontnod was exceptional at this in episode 1. I found Daniel quickly endearing, from his love of Chock-O-Crisps to his interest in Minecraft. So much so, that I said,
“I would kill everyone here and then myself,”
if anything happened to Daniel. (In true Rosa Diaz fashion.)
I had to decide whether or not I wanted to be a punk older brother or a protective one. I chose whether or not to ask strangers for food or send Daniel to beg. Also, I contemplated stealing supplies (with Daniel watching) or taking the riskier moral high ground. And know this, the game doesn’t stress selflessness for any reason.
However, your actions do have consequences. (For spoiler’s sake, I won’t illustrate the exact details.) The game has a mechanic of “steal counts,” wherein, the more Sean steals, the more likely Daniel will too.
Other smaller-impact mechanics include Sean’s backpack (which has a stellar interface). This displays the amount of cash he currently has in handwritten numbers by his wallet. It also harbors the ability to sit down and draw the surroundings (kept in his sketchbook).
Final Thoughts On Episode 1
There are no announcements for episode 2 of Life is Strange 2 yet. Dontnod expressed gratitude for the response to episode 1 and released an update on their progress. I’ll be waiting with baited breath for the release of episode 2. I’m looking forward to more of Sean’s sketches, brotherly banter, and Daniel’s 9-year-old-boy humor.
As a Latino man, a game emphasizing empathy for two Mexican-American boys, who show no toxic masculinity, has been a wonderful experience. I cannot wait to see Sean and Daniel again.