Life is Strange 2 represents one of the most notable nose dives in quality I think I’ve ever seen in a franchise because, while it’s predecessors managed to use their tones and messages to target a very specific young adult audience in a heartfelt way, this game uses it’s tone and messages to no discernible end. Thusly it feels like a forced sequel deprived of character and one which should not exist…
To understand why, you need to understand the plot: We play as Sean who takes his significantly younger brother, Daniel, on the run from the police after we witness the little guy accidentally murder a police officer with a super power he did not know he had or could control. Our goal is to get over the US border into Mexico so we can be safe, but the story takes the structure of a road trip so that every episode takes place in a new location with new characters. Eventually, our estranged mother helps us get to the border and whether we cross or not depends on the choices we’ve made during the game.
Right from the bat, this game should not exist because it’s inciting event makes literally no sense. Sean and Daniel’s father is wrongfully killed by a police officer, who is in turn killed by Daniel through no fault of his own. Daniel tosses the officer and his car through the air with his mind. This is captured on a second car’s camera, but neither of the brothers can be seen perpetrating the event. Following this, Daniel doesn’t even realise he had hurt anyone and seems to have forgotten the entire thing occurred, including the death of his father. With this in mind, neither of the boys would be considered suspects and the only reason they are is because Sean stupidly ran away with Daniel, implying they are running from some sort of wrongdoing. Not only that, but the whole scene is contrived. Though the officer was dreadfully wrong to kill their father, the dad also repeatedly ignored the officer’s instructions and advanced towards him while arguing. It’s forced and unearned. When those three things are what describe the inciting incident of your 10+ hour story game, I think it’s safe to say something is wrong.
But I don’t think I can continue with this review without first mentioning the game’s politics. As a note, I should mention there is no harm injecting sensible politics into games, but the way in which those politics are integrated should matter. Unfortunately for Life is Strange 2, it’s politics are integrated through some of the most cringe inducing, unintentionally laugh-out-loud hilarious and dumb ways I have ever seen. In Episode 1 you are caught sneaking into a store and tied up by the owner who proceeds to call the police because he thinks you’re stealing from him. Then out of nowhere, and because Sean and Daniel are Hispanic, the shop owner declares that “people like you are why we need that wall.” In about 0.5 seconds this character goes from a person who has probable cause to call the cops on you to some weird racist who is never seen or mentioned again. Moments later you are rescued by a liberal blogger (I shit you not) who goes on at length about inclusivity, finding your place in the world etc. Further in the story, you are sleeping in the desert when two hillbillies come and beat you up for not only being on their land, but because they also hate Hispanic people I guess. Finally, and perhaps most hilariously, we get to see Daniel struggle with his whole body to rip down Donald Trump’s border wall, despite the fact this is a character who has pulled trees out of the earth without so much as a sweat. The game intentionally stresses Daniel’s use of power on the wall for the sake of political iconography, despite it completely contradicting the strength he gained with his power in all of the prior episodes.
The problem with how politics is integrated into this game is that the racism Sean specifically suffers at the hands of police, hillbillies and the government is presented as an obstacle he must overcome in order to get through America. That’s fair enough; if you want racism to be a theme and obstacle in your game, then do it. However, from a narrative standpoint, not a single one of these instances impacts the plot at all and take place largely within scenes that could have otherwise been cut with only minimal changes to the narrative being necessary to compensate for them. They mean nothing and it feels like the game just wants to preach to us that “racism is bad” – you know, that fact basically everyone already knows. Life is Strange 2 is thusly a game that acknowledges racism against minorities exists, but has absolutely nothing to say about it. And it’s not just that it lacks a meaningful message about it’s politics, it’s the fact that it literally lacks a message at all. Well, that is unless you find “racism is bad” to be a a brave statement, and not the bare minimum a person should think on the matter, or that “Donald Trump is also bad”. All of this, combined with how forced each of the racist and political encounters are, result in a game that feels very condescending to it’s player’s.
There’s this one scene where a gay guy admits his hyper-religious family sent him to classes to “fix him”, but is only used to depict the church – the antagonist of that episode – in a bad light and never to do anything narratively or thematically meaningful. It’s just shocking information for the sake of shocking information. What makes it weirder is that Life is Strange has always spread positivity and representation for all the sexualities in the world (mad favouritism for bisexuals). But in this specific game where a character is, for the first time, admitting to having suffered discrimination for their orientation, it has absolutely nothing to say other than “that’s bad”. Like, no shit! I’m not a baby, try saying “that’s bad because…” and maybe any of your game’s messaging would work.
Condescending. That isn’t a thing you want to be in a story with this road trip structure. Because the plot demands our characters be in new locations with new people every episode, you never really get a chance to attach to anyone other than Sean and Daniel – the two people most closely linked to the condescending parts of the game, which leaves us with little to care about.
So for all I’ve written, this game’s biggest problem is that there’s nothing to be invested in. I mean, it tries to get you invested in their mother who abandoned them as children and didn’t show interest again until they were literally on the run from the police, and who not once expresses sorrow or regret for her actions. In fact she is one of the strangest characters in the game with very little redeeming features to her other than her insistence on helping the boys get across the border, and even then she refuses to join them actually doing to it. Then, although you do have the choice to not re-establish a relationship with her, the game heavily pushes the fact that you should try to make amends with her by presenting you with opportunity after opportunity to do so. Maybe it’s because I’m not a 16 year old with mommy issues, but I see no reason at all to forgive or care about this person who isn’t willing to put in any emotional work into re-establishing her bond with her estranged children, or capable of taking responsibility for how her absence damaged them. She serves a practical need in wanting to help us escape America, sure, but expresses no desire to help mend this broken family even after her eldest son witnessed the unjust death of his single father. Then she refuses to even go to Mexico with her children – a foreign country neither of the boys have ever been to – while the game AGAIN tries to assert that we make amends with her? This game has a strange agenda in favour of this terrible, terrible mother.
Okay, so you get to the ending and you have to make a choice: Cross the border and escape the police or turn yourself in because, despite initially having no reason to go on the run at all, you did commit a lot of crimes thereafter. Now, if you choose to escape and taught Daniel to be an asshole he will murder literally everyone while you cross together. If you choose to cross having taught Daniel to be a good guy, he will help you cross but bail out of the car to stay in America and leave poor ol’ Shaun on his own in Mexico. If you choose to stay and taught Daniel to be an asshole, Daniel will reject the idea and use his powers to force you both over the border while killing everyone. This option leads to Shaun dying and Daniel being alone in Mexico. If you choose to stay and taught Daniel to be a good guy, you have a heart to heart with him and he lets you turn yourself in peacefully.
I like what they were going for here… In concept. But let’s be real, we once again have the problem (for the third time!) of there only being one right choice in this ending, and that is to turn yourself in. I mean, unless you just want to see what happens, there’s absolutely no reason to ask your baby brother to murder a bunch of innocent cops and avoid responsibility for your actions. And while, conceptually, having Daniel interfere with the choice based on what you taught him is good, it just isn’t in execution; a lot of the time it ends up robbing you and feels forced more than it does a pay off. In the lead up to the finale Daniel will start saying stuff like “I don’t even speak Spanish”, and stuff to try and talk you out of it, but then can also force you to cross the border and get you killed for the thing he was opting against moments earlier. It just lacks consistency and polish overall.
So no, I would absolutely not recommend Life is Strange 2 under any circumstances. It’s truly, truly awful with very little redeeming features. The best way I can accurately describe this game is as schlock masquerading as art. Though not without it’s own issues, I’d favour The Walking Dead: The Final Season if you like the idea of an adventure game of this format putting you in the position of a child’s carer, where your treatment of them influences how they will act later in the story.