Life is Strange first released in 2015 and set a new bar for choice-based storytelling within gaming.
Packed with teen drama, tough choices and supernatural phenomena, Life is Strange revealed how your actions will have genuine consequences. Life is Strange 2 builds on this successful formula, but at times episode one, Roads, falls short of the original and occasionally feels like an imitation.
The importance of friends and family
Life is Strange 2 introduces two new characters, brothers Sean and Daniel. 16 year old Sean, the main protagonist, is a fairly typical teenager. The introduction to Sean sees him having girl problems, and struggling to decide what to say in a message to his crush, Jen. This sets up the arrival of his best friend Lyla, who is the self-professed “love guru.” She’s kind of like the Chloe figure from Life is Strange, rebellious but also endearing. It’s made clear that Sean and Lyla have a close friendship built on trust. The opening moments are mainly cutscenes, with a few choices thrown in: you get to decide whether you want Sean to smoke or not.
Sean then returns home to prepare for the Friday night Halloween party. Lyla, the “love guru”, has given Sean a list of items to bring to the party: snacks, drinks, weed, and a condom (did we mention that this was a teen party?). This begins the first chance the player has to explore with Sean. It’s typical Life is Strange as Sean moves around the house, examining certain items. Sean’s musings while observing provide some insight into his personality and he comes off as very likeable.
This also allows for the player to interact with younger brother Daniel, and their father, Esteban. Sean’s dad has a very relaxed approach to fatherhood, and is quite liked by his sons because of this. He asks Sean whether there will be drugs and drink at the party (because, you know, teen party) and the player can choose whether to be honest or not. But, either way, Esteban is understanding. He’s also concerned about Sean’s plans after graduation, suggesting he should find a trade. Sean is honest about his concerns about post-school plans. Their conversation is warm and caring, and emphasises the bond between the two. The dialogue is more sophisticated and realistic than some of the opening conversations in Life is Strange.
The player also gets to interact with Daniel, who is making a mask for Halloween. Daniel is a typical child, if maybe portrayed as a little too immature at times. It’s clear that Sean wants the best for Daniel, and does care for him, but also finds his younger brother slightly annoying. When Skyping with Lyla he sees Daniel, who is now outside, getting into trouble with the neighbour. This makes Sean run outside to see what is happening, and starts the main plot. Sadly it’s one of the last times Lyla is included in this opening episode, who I found to be the most enjoyable character so far.
The long and winding road
In an unexplained incident, Daniel somehow used a sudden surge of power to destroy everything around him. This caused him to blackout and forget about what had just happened, but Sean remembers it all. It’s a traumatising moment for Sean, who decides to pick up Daniel and run. It’s a shocking moment, and one that sets up an intriguing story to follow.
Two days later, Sean and Daniel are walking down a deserted road in the middle of a forest. The landscape is beautiful. Daniel obviously does not know about what had happened two days prior, and Sean aims to keep it this way. The bond between the two becomes more important at this moment as Sean has to become the father figure for Daniel.
This also introduces the main ability within Life is Strange 2: Sean’s ability to teach Daniel. The two explore a nature walk and this allows the player to examine more items, but now Sean can call Daniel over and have a conversation with him based on each item. The dialogue choices become more important here as they shape Daniel’s character and decision making. Honestly, the consequences of these actions were lacking in the first episode, making them feel a little less important. Hopefully they’ll become more apparent in the later episodes.
While on the road the two brothers get involved in a variety of different experiences. There’s also a gripping moment involving Sean being trapped and needing Daniel to help. Life is Strange 2: Episode 1 – Roads doesn’t have as much actual gameplay as I would have liked, but it sets up the main characters and story well. There are also more instances of Daniel using his power, unintentionally, which are important moments in the first episode.
I’ve got the power?
Sadly, in the first episode of Life is Strange 2, Sean just doesn’t feel as compelling as seasons one’s Max. Max’s interest in photography allowed for some poignant moments in the original Life is Strange, and Blackwell Academy provided a more interesting setting. Sean does draw occasionally in the game, but his passion isn’t conveyed in such a way to make the player view it as important to him. Likewise, the beautiful environment does get a little one-dimensional at times, with not much to explore or interact with.
There are a lot of moments where the player can choose to sit and a new cutscene is introduced. These moments don’t quite have the same power that they did in Life is Strange, almost feeling a little forced. Sean is a likeable character, but he’s incredibly unfazed about the events at the start of the game. Clearly, he’s putting on a brave face for Daniel, but even his personal musings are too calm for someone in his situation. Apart from an incredibly well portrayed scene near the end of the episode (with a character who looks and talks a lot like Seth Rogen – honestly), Sean is just a bit too carefree in a lot of the game.
Daniel’s power is very intriguing. It’s kind of like Ciri’s uncontrollable power in The Witcher 3. He can generate a huge burst of power which pushes away everything around him and causes a lot of damage. It’s a great plot point, but it’s a shame that Sean doesn’t have a power. Max’s ability to rewind time added another dimension to the teen drama of Blackwell Academy, and that’s something missing in Life is Strange 2 right now. The preview for episode two does show Daniel training to use his powers and trying to lift a rock with his mind (Yoda and Luke Skywalker-esque!). Hopefully the power becomes something the player can use within the later episodes to add a new dimension to the gameplay.
Life is Strange 2, in typical fashion for the franchise, includes some brilliant music choices. The music helps emphasise the bond between the two brothers, and even the player and Sean. Personally, I wouldn’t say it’s as impactful as the original Life is Strange, but the music is still used very well. Graphically, little has improved from the original, but that’s not a problem – it wasn’t broke so why fix it? Small moments, like the reflection of the campfire in the brothers’ eyes, or Sean’s teary eyes, are beautifully included and add to the overall emotion which Life is Strange has built its story upon.
Life is Strange 2: Episode 1 – Roads is a strong introduction to Sean and Daniel’s characters and story. Their bond is portrayed in a realistic manner, and some moments can be highly emotive. Sadly, Sean’s lack of a power makes the first episode feel less exciting than Max’s opening. The gameplay feels a little too one-dimensional at this moment and really required an added twist. But Roads sets up some intriguing plot points which I’m really excited to see unfold in later episodes of Life is Strange 2.