"More often than ever before, I chose to not interact with people or clickables out of concern for what might happen."
Dontnod Entertainment is in a difficult position that only comes when a developer experiences extraordinary success with a previous title. Not only was their earlier work in the series stellar, but Before the Storm (created by a different group) is arguably as good or better. Other projects aside, fans have felt confident in Dontnod's ability to meet the challenge. Rest assured, Episode 1 drew me in and makes me hopeful for where this sequel is headed.
Life is Strange 2 (LiS2) opens with Sean and his best friend Lyla walking together in their suburban neighborhood near Seattle. High school life couldn't be any more typical, what with concerns about parties, crushes, and where to snag some booze (of course, from Dad's fridge). Sean's Hispanic family consists of himself, Daniel, and Dad, and home is almost as typical as school. His various circles are easy to quickly fall in love with, but be assured that the premise and conflict sew discomfort before players have a chance to settle in.
Beyond the opening, LiS2 becomes a serious tale with tasteful, calm asides. This challenging feat happens seamlessly as Dontnod's team gracefully transitions between morose and fancy-free childhood. Sean's struggle feels simultaneously real and endearing. Various themes lace their way into the overall narrative with overt sociopolitical insight, the bright and dark side of strangers, and what family truly means when the husk of daily life is stripped away. LiS2 has a lot to say, which the developers make palatable and engrossing at the same time.
That being said, LiS2 has occasional lulls. While Dontnod has done a fantastic job of lacing the casual with serious tones, some of the ho-hum duties Sean is forced to engage in are more laborious than captivating. These occasional missteps are quickly forgotten as the dynamic between characters calls to our hearts. More often than not, the subtle tension of what awaits Sean maintained my attention even if the present objectives didn't fascinate.
As far as gameplay's concerned, LiS2 has occasional major decisions that occur like modern adventure titles tend to include, but smaller decisions occur throughout. These decisions transcend dialogue in some cases and force players to consider how they want to interact with the environment. More often than ever before, I chose to not interact with people or clickables out of concern for what might happen.
Life is Strange, as a series, is known for its vibes and presentation. Few games embody chill the way LiS does, LiS2 being no exception. While the lip syncing and clay-like quality of characters is a bit off, the animations, body language, and world breathe personality. I had looked forward to amazing music as has been the series' custom, but LiS2 felt a bit shy in this regard. Although some of the songs enhanced the experience, I felt like Episode 1 was lacking here. Of note, previous tunes emerged from prior titles, which I assume will be a series staple — and that's a good thing!
Episode 1 is a respectable first step. I'm acquainted with the characters, understand where the story's headed, and want to know if everyone's going to be okay. In short, I care, and that speaks volumes. While I wasn't blown away, I think this is a reliable foundation for some killer storytelling. Given the consistent quality Dontnod presents, I have faith that they will, at very least, meet the expectations of their fans.
This review is based on a free review copy provided to RPGFan by the developer. This relationship in no way influenced the reviewer's opinion of the game or its final score.