Life Is Strange 2: Episode 1 – Roads
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