Life Is Strange 2: Episode 1 – Roads

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PC, PS4, Xbox One

De­vel­oper Dontnod En­ter­tain­ment Pub­lisher Square Enix For­mat PC, PS4, Xbox One Re­lease Out now

Oc­ca­sion­ally clumsy but of­ten sear­ingly au­then­tic, the first episode of Life Is Strange 2 holds true to se­ries form. Su­per­nat­u­ral teen drama seems to be the ideal medium for Dontnod’s best work: ex­plor­ing dif­fi­cult themes with creativ­ity and care. Broth­ers Sean and Daniel Diaz are on the run af­ter a trig­ger-happy cop rips their fam­ily apart – and the younger Diaz re­sponds by do­ing the same thing to their sleepy Seattle neigh­bour­hood.

Like Max Caulfield be­fore him, Daniel has a gift. This time, it’s telekine­sis – though the nine-year-old has far less con­trol over it, and we see lit­tle of it in this first few hours. In­stead, Roads lays the ground­work for its char­ac­ters and set­ting. There’s true chem­istry be­tween the broth­ers: it helps that Dontnod has pol­ished up its en­gine, ex­pres­sions now far less wooden. Scenes in­volv­ing skip­ping stones, jump­ing on beds and throw­ing sticks for a puppy come close to be­ing twee, but are bal­anced out by the be­liev­able writ­ing of the broth­ers’ re­la­tion­ship. Traces of Life Is Strange’s cringe-wor­thi­ness re­main – a few lines are so clichéd we find our­selves recit­ing them in tan­dem. But again, every­thing is cut with an earnest­ness lent by its per­for­mances and the story’s willing­ness to tackle real sub­jects.

Your role as Sean is to pro­tect and set a good ex­am­ple for Daniel, which forms the ba­sis of your most sig­nif­i­cant choices. And al­though the ‘build the wall’ rhetoric can verge on pan­tomime, there are mo­ments of ag­o­nis­ing sub­tlety in its in­tro­duc­tion of a recog­nis­ably xeno­pho­bic Amer­ica. You’ll suf­fer at the hands of a racist red­neck re­gard­less of whether or not you stole food from his gas sta­tion – but it’s an ex­tra twist of the knife if you did, as you re­alise you’ve ended up play­ing into a stereo­type in your des­per­a­tion to pro­vide for your brother. Al­ready, Life Is Strange 2 is do­ing a re­mark­able job of hav­ing you reckon with the kind of ev­ery­day loselose sit­u­a­tions that marginalised peo­ple face.

Life Is Strange 2 seems de­ter­mined to keep it – ahem – real, then. But Max Caulfield’s time-bend­ing pow­ers served as the per­fect foil to a tale about teenage self­con­scious­ness. Roads is miss­ing that sense of the­matic co­he­sion, scat­ter­ing ran­dom-seem­ing, some­times un­wieldy in­ter­ac­tions through­out. Right now, Daniel’s telekine­sis feels like a throw­away su­per­nat­u­ral mo­tif for the sake of se­ries tra­di­tion. And al­though an end-of-episode teaser prom­ises more, we won­der how much more there is to ex­plore in the con­cept of a young boy be­ing taught to con­trol his de­struc­tive urges. Still, there’s some­thing vi­tal about this first episode’s en­dear­ingly messy setup: to err is hu­man, af­ter all, and Life Is Strange is noth­ing if not that.

De­tailed an­i­ma­tions make the broth­ers’ re­la­tion­ship feel real. An amus­ing early mo­ment sees Daniel slam his bed­room door af­ter Sean teases him, be­fore open­ing it again as you walk away to pull one last face

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