Like most of the other people placing Life is Strange 2 on their end of year list, I’m going to go ahead and say it – the lengthy release schedule for LiS 2 murdered it. I’m sure there was a good reason for the wait time between episodes, but it ultimately capsized enthusiasm around the game.
With that out of the way, HOLY SHIT was this a tremendous game. It’s nowhere near as classic-feeling as LiS 1, the gameplay hook just isn’t quite as catchy, and the ‘I’m just barely able to choke out this sentence!’ voice acting is weirder than ever, but as an interactive story, the Diaz brothers’ odyssey through an America emboldened by hateful ideology and corrupt figures in power felt more immediate, thrilling, and heart wrenching than almost any other game I’ve played. I’ll steer clear of spoilers, but all this is to say: Life is Strange 2 is not to be missed.
There are many, many moments in Life is Strange 2 in which I felt like my gut had fallen to the floor. There are the big, life-defining decisions, in which its clear any action you do or don’t take will alter the lives of the protagonists forever, but there are also the quiet moments in which Sean has to pick up the pieces of a life gone wrong. And then there are the painful moments in which the people around Sean and Daniel reveal themselves to be the worst kind of monsters; moments where our protagonists have to choose between humiliation at the hands of a racist abuser or to stand their ground at the expense of their own safety.
Telltale style games have their limitations. So many gameplay moments in LiS 2 have the player character simply wandering around an environment and thinking out loud about its contents, which is not especially compelling. Dontnod at least manage to make these spaces interesting. Besides the dense (and super accurate!) scenery, there really aren’t any characters in LiS 2 write large that aren’t interesting to get to know.
Sometimes the world design is…quite real! Unlike the fantastic, Twin Peaks escapism of LiS 1, LiS 2 allows the tensions of the real world simmer (and sometimes explode) to the surface of the story. It manages the precarious narrative balance of portraying the racial and political divisions in America – as well as the racists and politicians responsible for creating these tensions in the first place – without shoehorning the player into a foregone conclusion. This is to say, LiS 2 asks us to live in its Latin American protagonists’ shoes; to live in a country where the wrong someone could ruin your life for an arbitrary reason. It’s claustrophobic, infuriating, and cruel.
Filmmaker Howard Hawks once said that for a movie to be great, it would only need to contain three great scenes, and no bad ones. If we apply this rule of thinking to video game narrative design, this makes Life is Strange 2 a great video game. The first great scene involves a (if the player so chooses) romantic interlude by a campfire, in which every injustice up to that point washes away, if only for a little while. The second great scene involves Sean being penitent in a church during a moment of extreme tension. The third great scene is at the very end, in which the player is given a final choice, where all of their actions up to that point are put in their truest context.
Life is Strange 2 is a great game. Play it, dorks.