When Life is Strange 2’s first episode launched, its differences seemed to define it. It was a road trip game, where the first Life is Strange had been so focused on a particular place. It featured a far smaller recurring cast, without the familiar faces who had helped flesh out Arcadia Bay. And it was about two brothers, their relationship defined by a difference in age as well as special abilities. It felt a lonelier experience, one slightly harder to warm to, with a central relationship which at times felt more like work than friendship. Ultimately, each of these differences has helped Life is Strange 2 stand out as something unique, truthful and necessary.
Sean Diaz and his younger brother Daniel are forced to run from home and evade the law following the events of a tragedy which leaves them alone in the world. We meet them in a brief moment of normality – part of a family and set of friends not dissimilar from those seen in the first Life is Strange. And then everything falls to pieces.
The brotherly bond the game then explores is a slower burn compared to the rekindling of a reconnection among old friends or the spark of a romance seen in previous seasons. Instead, Life is Strange 2’s heart lies in the growing understanding between these two boys of what they mean to each other, out on the road. It is a closeness learnt over long days trekking through the forest and longer nights spent shivering together by a campfire. It is the continued hardships faced along their journey, the bigotry they endure due to racial profiling, the new friends which help them further towards their goal. It is Daniel’s special powers as a metaphor for a volatile child dealing with loss. And, most of all, it is the ways you as the teenage Sean respond to all of these things – which in turn moulds how the younger Daniel reacts too.
Life is Strange 2 is a sometimes meandering adventure, one which both in-game and in real life has taken a considerable time to see through (in realisation, it seems, developer Dontnod has already highlighted how its next episodic game will arrive over a far shorter period). But each stop along its path has added something to Sean and Daniel’s relationship – a sense of family, friendship, danger, and the harsh realities of adult life – that feel critical to where the pair end up. And yes, it can certainly feel tough. It is a journey filled with setbacks and prejudice which sometimes grind this young adult-drama-with-superpowers right down into the mud of the here and now – something the original Life is Strange, however dark it got, seemed somehow removed from. It is because of all this Life is Strange 2 is a journey I would recommend to anyone. Sean’s shoes are ones few games walk within, while your choices ultimately form a complex relationship with Daniel which feels unparalleled in nuance in the series so far, or elsewhere.
We hit a rough patch, Daniel and my version of Sean, somewhere around episode three. I think you’re supposed to. Everything I ended up having to tell him to do – or to stop doing – he’d then go and push the boundaries of a little further each time. This middle episode, perhaps my favourite of the season, features an extended stay alongside the season’s best set of side-characters. (For those who fell in love with Life is Strange because of its big Arcadia Bay cast, it is here the game allows Sean and Daniel some time to pause alongside the sequel’s closest approximation.) But by bringing the brothers’ nomadic journey to a halt, by letting the player focus entirely on Sean and his own motivations, if you so choose, this episode highlights how delicate the bond between brothers is. It is a necessary narrative step which comes at just the right point in their story. And for my Sean, tired of his responsibilities to Daniel after months trapped together, it was the moment I realised I needed to do better.
From the off, Life is Strange 2’s long telegraphed end point – the dream of hopping the border down to Mexico – represents a fanciful kind of freedom. It is a means to escape those pursuing Sean and Daniel, an idyllic promised place where the pair can reconnect with their father’s heritage. In reality, it is a looming precipice. What happens when you reach it plays out in a set of varying circumstances which feel far better suited to your own particular journey overall than the original Life is Strange’s morally complex but mechanically straightforward choice of ending. I was left feeling the loss of these two characters as people I had spent the past year checking in on and helping to guide. Like Sean, I felt, I had done all I could to help Daniel – and the brothers’ story finished in a place which felt truthful to them and the story path I took. It was beautiful while it lasted.