Life is Strange 2: Episode 1 Review -- All Over the Place
Nothing can beat the original. At least that's what they say.
In every type of media, it’s a common sentiment that the sequel is never as good as whatever came before. Be it in film, literature, or television, the first iteration is usually better. But video games are different in that regard. It's usually the second game in a series gamers remember fondly.
Mass Effect 2, Half Life 2, Silent Hill 2, Uncharted 2.
When it comes to video games, it’s not too difficult to pick the best game from a franchise and have it be a numbered sequel. Why? Because the developers have learned certain lessons from the games that came before, making substantial improvements to key elements such as gameplay, graphics, and story.
Yet with Life is Strange 2, Dontnod Entertainment finds that going back to the well is a bit harder than it might seem.
In “Roads”, you take on the role of Sean Diaz, a 16-year-old high school student tasked with caring for his brother, Daniel. Although I won't dive too deeply into the narrative or the plot devices that put you on your journey, it's safe to say that something doesn't go right early on and the two of you set out to carve a new path.
However, despite my fondness for Life is Strange, Chloe, and Max, I immediately found it difficult to connect with the protagonists of Life is Strange 2. For most of my four-hour adventure with them, l often felt like the initial moments of the story were exploitative in a way, focusing too directly on current real-world events.
It wasn't deal-breaking, but it did leave a bad taste in my mouth, one I couldn't easily rinse out. And although the game does find firmer footing once you finally set out on your journey and begin to dig deeper into the dynamic between the two brothers, Episode 1 never really drew me into its story as I'd hoped it would.
I never truly connected with Sean as a central character. Hopefully, as the brothers continue to flesh out their relationships, all of that will change.
Having New Conversations
On the technical side of things, the dialogue system from Life is Strange has been revamped to make the sequel's many conversations feel more natural.
Eschewing the modern equation of statement + timer + choice = answer found in so many adventure games these days, conversations in Life is Strange 2 are more free flowing. This means that conversations often sidestep the rigid Q&A loop other games tend to fall into.
That's not to say, however, that everything here is roses. Peppered throughout your naturally flowing conversations are some incredibly cringe-worthy dialogue sequences. Some even bring to mind the Steve Buscemi, "How do you do fellow kids?" meme.
But where Life is Strange 2 mostly stumbles is when its writers desperately try to recreate conversations centered around sex or certain other coming-of-age exchanges. There are moments that pull at your heart strings -- and moments where you'll most certainly tear up -- but these awkward moments can easily pull you out of the story for all the wrong reasons.
It doesn't help that facial animations can be stiff and unreadable -- or that the lip syncing is woefully off. I understand that the game has a specific art style it’s trying to pull off and that animations aren't real-to-life, but that doesn’t explain away the often dead look a lot of characters have when discussing major story events.
Couple that with awkward dialogue and it can be difficult to stay engrossed in the story as it plays out.
The first episode of Life is Strange 2 is a bit all over the place for me. While I’m not head over heels for its characters the way I was for Chloe and Max in the game’s first season, I do think Sean and Daniel do have the potential to grow on me as the season goes on.
While the dialogue will hopefully get better, I doubt the facial animations will improve as the season goes on. It seems like a minor gripe, but in such a story-heavy game, every little detail matters -- and every little detail affects the gravitas behind the narrative.
If Life is Strange 2 can improve upon that as the season progresses, and not lean too heavily on its political underpinnings as set dressing, it has the potential to equal the veracity of the original.
[Note: The developer provided the copy of Life is Strange 2 used for this review.]