Platforms: PS4, Xbox One, PC
Reviewed By: Stojan Jovic
Disclaimer: This review will contain spoilers, however your gameplay may WIDELY differ than what is in this review, depending on your choices.
Once upon a time, in a wild, wild world…there were two wolf brothers, living in their home lair with their papa wolf…
This story, told in the words of Sean Diaz, the older brother to Daniel Diaz, is repeated throughout the game as a tale of their adventures. Wolves by nature are wild and free, however hunted and surviving on threads. This story expands with every passing episode, and with every consequential choice you make. You alter their story by the choices you make, and you influence who the wolves are, and what they stand for as they are on the run; hunted, and alone.
Life is Strange 2 is a narrative choice-driven game that follows two Hispanic Sean and Daniel Diaz brothers as they are on the run from the police. Following an altercation on their front lawn with a racist neighbor teenager, it spirals out of control to the point where it their father dead by the hands of a nervous and trigger happy white police officer (NOTE: I am stating these points because they are integral to the overall story). As a result of the traumatic event, happening in front of the eyes of the Diaz brothers, Daniel, the youngest one, conjures up a massive telekinetic explosive blast that leaves the police officer dead, and significant collateral damage. Scared for his life, and the life of his brother, Sean picks his brother up and runs before the rest of the cops come. Throughout the rest of the game, they are on the run, with plans to get to Porto Lobos in Mexico, the place their father mentioned returning some day.
Why did he run, you ask? In the eyes of Sean, who’s a normal teen in high school at this point, sees one thing before him; a dead white police officer on the front lawn of a Hispanic household. In a fit of panic, Sean doesn’t see this ending well, predicting that what’s left of his family being torn apart even more than it already has (their mother is not in the picture). This is expanded on in a flashback scene some episodes later, where Sean is upset with his brother for “stealing stuff from his room,” and his father tells him “you have help me and be the best big brother to Daniel that you can. He needs you.” At that moment of helplessness, Sean runs with his brother, to protect him.
What follows throughout the five episodes are a series of close calls with the police, civilians that take it upon themselves to capture the brothers, running with a band of young vagabonds, escaping a religious cult, and ultimately attempting to reach your end goal; getting to Mexico, the birthplace of your father, and away from the law. To the more practical and sensible eye, you may play the game and think to yourself “just turn yourself in!” It may not end well, but at the very least you will be alive. I know I asked myself that question throughout playing the game.
Many games explored this theme of doing what you think is best to save your family; Last of Us, Heavy Rain, even Red Dead Redemption. It’s a moral ambiguity that no one would truly understand unless thrust into that situation. What would you do for your family, or loved ones? The answer is never all that easy, and it leads you to questioning yourself and your actions as you dig yourself deeper into a point of almost no return in the game.
The gameplay is nothing but walking from conversation to conversation, and picking what to say to people, what to ask, and how to present yourself to others. These conversations affect not only how your brother sees you, but also how you treat him while he’s discovering and mastering the powers that he possesses. In a sense, you can turn your younger brother into a murderous villain, or you can turn him into a compassionate and helpful hero. You’ll encounter serious consequential moments in the game that will mold you as the older brother in the story, especially when your relationship with Daniel gets tested. He has a power he doesn’t know what to do with, and it’s up to you to not only teach him what to do, but how to see the world in his own eyes. These choices ultimately affect the ending of the story, and if Daniel follows you, or not.
The themes within the game can be uncomfortable for some, as it deals with racism, extreme radical patriotism, and violence. It wears those themes openly which gives Sean the “motivation” to just keep on running. In a time of “Build the Wall”-type rhetoric being at an all time high, the player is encouraged to take a step back and contemplate how that affects the brothers. It becomes all the more poignant when the brothers see “The Wall” for the first time and Daniel asks “why would they build this?” Whether you agree to the wall or not, which isn’t the point of this review, you nonetheless look at the wall through the eyes of the brothers. At least that’s the intention. The game puts these themes on the forefront.
Graphically the game isn’t a powerhouse, but they did pay great attention to the scenery and various locations throughout your journey. You’ll encounter wooden forests, deserts, snowy landscapes and towns, and trailer parks. The characters are less wooden in their movements compared to the first Life is Strange also (Dotnod probably invested more in motion capture this time around), and are a lot more varied in their personalities. You build relationships with these characters which can alter small parts of the overall story. The acting overall is well scripted and acted out, even though there are quite a few cringe-y bits throughout (especially the music soundtrack, ugh…).
Dotnod has established itself as a developer that brings to light themes of moral ambiguity in their Life is Strange series. Whether you agree with those themes or not will affect how you connect with the games, and this is especially true with Life is Strange 2. It is definitely not a game for everyone, even if you’re into narrative-focused games like these. I connected with this game from the stance of me being an older brother; while I may not agree with Sean’s decision in the first act of the game, I understand why he did it. I understood why he kept running, and why he continually protected his brother, even know it may not have been the right thing to do in the long run. I may have even done the same thing, granted I was in that same position. The game’s script is not written out to make sense in a practical way, but it is purely made out to focus on being an older brother to a very young and naive boy that has discovered he has an immense power for good, or bad. Ultimately in the end, it is a very divisive game in a narrative sense, but it’s acting is top notch, and the scenery makes you stop and appreciate the artists’ renditions of some of America’s best looking features.
-Great narrative (my opinion), although divisive politically
-Well acted throughout
-Great scenery and backgrounds
-A divisive narrative that may put off a lot of people
-Questionable choices that you will definitely not agree with
-Daniel can get annoying at times. REAL annoying.