When the original Life Is Strange released in 2015 it seemed to be a massive hit with everyone I talked to and quickly become a well-loved series that people are still drawing fan art of today. But what happened to Life is Strange 2?
The fifth and final chapter in the game was released last week without the massive applause and rousing online discussion that came for the first game. It’s easy to blame the several months between the release of each chapter, but fans have proven they’ll stick around months for episodic releases when they care for it enough. It worked for the first game and it worked time and time over for many of Telltales Games releases. It could simply be that the audience for episodic games is gone and burnt out with the structure, but I think that for most, a game starring two Hispanic boys on the run in an American that’s presented as very much MAGA ground isn’t as appealing as teen girls, high school drama and the romance that all included.
Chloe and Max’s story in the first game is at times very much like watching a CW Network drama. Yes, it does deal with horrific and mature things, some more successfully than others, but the High School setting is simply an easier point-of-entry compared to Life Is Strange 2 and it’s cast of characters. The first game has romance and easily shippable leads with one being performed by Ashly Burch in a loud, instantly memorable and likeable character with Chloe Price. Life Is Strange 2 has one episode that plays with romance, but the story is focused on being about the story of two brothers, with the youngest being often, as ten-year-olds are, annoying at times.
In the first game, you played as Max Caulfield who had the ability to rewind time, and in this sequel, you play as Sean Diaz, who doesn’t have any superpowers. It’s instead of his younger brother Daniel who can manipulate objects, make things float – destroy things even. Instead of being the powerful one with a superpower crux to fall back on, your job as Sean in the game is to guide him and be his leading conscious and moral figure after the two of them lose their father in the games first chapter. Will you teach Daniel to use his power for personal gain at all times with zero care for the repercussions or teach him that with great power, comes great responsibility?
In Life Is Strange 2’s first chapter you’re introduced to Sean as a very normal teenager who’s about to go party with some friends. Daniel is messing with his stuff, they have a brotherly fight and their father intervenes. It’s when their racist neighbour begins harassing Daniel that things turn hairy very fast and the arrival of a Police Officer elevates the situation in devastating ways. It’s immediately obvious how if this was the first game and Daniel could rewind time it would prove a much more helpful ability. But instead the two hit the ground running, afraid, and the two of them, over the course of five chapters, meet some truly wonderful people alongside some truely cruel people.
The dichotomy of America today is what Life Is Strange 2 presents as the unequivocal driving for its story. It’s heavy-handed at times, but its thematic focusing, when compared to the first game, leads to more consistently better writing and storytelling. It’s a sad game, I’ve watched all the endings, mine and the six others which range from crushingly defeating to bittersweet. It’s also a very American story and one that unfortunately feels truly relevant right now.
I’ve been playing the release of each chapter of Life is Strange 2 and discussing them on ‘Beyond The Strange’, a podcast here at the Explosion Network. Every chapter gave me something to think about, character choices to break down and moral quandaries to ponder. The nature of this season also worked in favour of the months between each episode. When I played the final episode I appreciated the time I’d had between each chapter that made some of the smaller things hidden within a welcome surprise. Life is Strange 2 is a road-movie with each chapter picking up after a long period which always made me feel like the characters were just living their lives as I waited for each new release. I wouldn’t have had the same reaction to small details in the final chapter had I binged the entire games season, it simply wouldn’t be the same. I did binge the first game, however, and found the pace to be perfect given how most the chapters pick up very close to one another.
Life is Strange 2 is going to be one of 2019’s most underrated games and that makes me sad. DontNod made a brave choice pivoting so far away from what made the first season a success and I applaud them for it, even if the characters and story didn’t latch onto gamers the way they may have wanted.