Title: Life is Strange 2: Episode 2
Release Date: January 24, 2019
Reviewed On: PS4
Publisher: Square Enix
Genre: Episodic Graphic Adventure
After some time away, Life is Strange 2 is back to continue pushing the emotional tension between brothers, family, and the risky situations that call for new rules. Previous choices made begin to affect Sean and Daniel Diaz and thanks to unknown powers, the complications don’t seem to have an end in sight. Dontnod Entertainment presents a narrative that has players choose between gray areas, and it if wasn’t for constant audio bugs and a few moments of sketchy animation hampering the experience, Life is Strange 2: Episode 2 comes pretty close to making me feel that video games are officially better than TV shows.
This review is based on Episode 2 of Life is Strange 2 which is imperative to the events in Episode 1, so there are minor spoilers ahead.
Episode 2 continues after Daniel figures out that his and his brother Sean’s father had died from a police encounter that forced them on the run. The entire event had Daniel realize that he had powers of telekinesis that ended up making the whole ordeal worse. In order to escape, the brothers must find their way to Mexico, but that isn’t an easy trek. Players control Sean as he tries his best to keep Daniel safe while keeping his brother’s powers under control and teaching him right from wrong.
Sometime after the first episode, Sean and Daniel have sheltered themselves in an abandoned house to rest up and train before making plans to contact their grandparents for aid. The choices players have, like helping the grandparents with chores or encouraging Daniel to keep his powers a secret all add up to immediate reactions, consequences, and ultimately the episode’s finale.
The journey to Episode 2’s ending is like watching a TV show. In both a technological and visual presentation standpoint, gameplay runs smoother than previous games in the series. I find that usually, in narrative adventure games, players can expect some jittery frames as the game processes the selection and renders the next scenes to play out. Thankfully, this jittering issue isn’t present in Episode 2, however, players will find an occasional animation scripting issue that has characters and objects snap into their places. Overall, the presentation had a feeling of being organic and works as the developer’s intended.
What particularly stands out about Episode 2 is how there are sections that call for harder decisions to be made. For these sections, there are cutscenes that just completely captured my attention, and I often times felt like every decision I made, led to an unexpected outcome that I never could’ve imagined. However, in the results page after the episode’s end, the game showed me many different outcomes that could’ve happened, which didn’t make me upset. I was only left surprised by just how seamless the writing made me feel like I played an integral role in how the story played out. After realizing this, I ended up wanting to replay the game to see if Dontnod made sure all possible choices had the same smooth and natural outcomes.
Throughout my playthrough, I did encounter a few audio bugs, such as a sink that was running water in a continuous loop sound effect throughout an entire section. These types of bugs were not game-breaking, but it can potentially ruin moments where concentrating on the nuances of the dialogue is needed to make decisions. Here’s hoping the visual and audio mishaps were just a one-time occurrence and the developer will iron out the problems for other players at a later date.
Despite these minor issues, Episode 2 is a polished experience, especially since it has better animations compared to Episode 1. Episode 2 has more expression in faces and realistic movements from all characters and animals in-game. Opening scenes with Mushroom, Daniel’s pet dog, playing in the snow both in and out of cutscenes shows off much improved technical prowess of Dontnod’s team with movement animation, snow effects, lighting, and framing that rivals TV shows or indie movies. The noticeable differences had me thinking of the potential of the game reaching a much higher quality through updates and patching that it could make it a better experience to play again. All in all, Episode 2 completely raises the bar for the expectation of how narrative adventures look and play.
While Life is Strange 2: Episode 2 doesn’t have certain elements that made the previous games in the Life is Strange series so great, Episode 2 still manages to impress in new ways. As for the previous games in the series, I enjoyed how they followed a certain set of elements that really made for exciting and engaging narrative-driven, surreal adventures. I especially loved how previous games had the following: a young character struggling to pick right from wrong, supernatural occurrences that blur the lines for player choices, and finally, a great indie movie feel. Life is Strange 2: Episode 1 and 2 have taken a different approach to storytelling that feels more cinematic and less narrative-driven. In the series, we have two brothers trying to hide the youngest’s power, and the games are backed by a soundtrack that would make movie buffs swoon — but the series has yet to have true supernatural powers that cause a strong enough conflict that has players quickly wanting to replay the games over and over again.
The delight I find in Life is Strange stories is also the reason why I tend to recommend them to new players. The choice of heavy narrative works because of the younger characters that are sensitive to the choices they are forced to make, thus making these plots powerful for this sub-genre of gaming. And while Episode 2’s improved visuals and presentation couldn’t completely iron out all the bugs and human performances, Dontnod’s decision to have two characters process their choices and even bump heads make for a potentially strong climax that I continue to look forward to.
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