The original Life Is Strange was a successful yet divisive narrative-driven adventure game. Most of that division was rooted in its cringeworthy, hammy dialogue that made its teenage cast grating to listen to. You either looked past it or couldn’t. It resonated with enough people to warrant a sequel in the same vein but with different characters in the same universe. LIFE IS STRANGE 2 EPISODE 1 is the debut of a new season and it still has plenty of awkward dialogue and interactions, but it’s also got more heart.
Life Is Strange 2 follows two brothers, Daniel and Sean, as they embark on their unexpected 1,700-mile trip from Seattle, Washington to Puerto Lobos, Mexico. Episode 1 fittingly hones in on the early parts of that journey, making it an ideal time to learn about the characters in the beginning of the most important time of their lives.
Life Is Strange 2 Episode 1 Review: The Brothers Diaz
And given how it is a Telltale-style adventure game, that’s what most of the episode spends its time doing. Sean, the 16-year-old, has been pushed into taking care of his younger, nine-year-old brother Daniel and their interactions have an appropriate amount of brotherly bickering and bonding. Most options let you choose which type of brother you want to be and your actions as Sean can even shape how Daniel turns out, although there isn’t much of that causality in this episode.
Some of their moments together are cute, piggybacking off playful interaction and nicely written familial camaraderie. You can play hide and go seek with Daniel, teach him how to skip rocks, or just chat about Lord of the Rings. The bond between brothers is a refreshing take and, in a broader sense, mirrors the ingenuity between the relationship between teenage girls in the first game and the father and son dynamic in The Awesome Adventures in Captain Spirit.
That time together is when the game’s writing is at its best. It’s a natural form of characterization that helps you warm up to the characters and the roadtrip setup is a solid way to let those moments naturally play out. Since they spend most of the episode’s runtime walking near each other, it forces them to spend time together, giving you more time to care. The game is built on the crux of that relationship and it’s passable to great when it needs to be. It’s the best part of the episode and is what gives the whole season a promising start.
Life Is Strange 2 Episode 1 Review: Hella Awkward
But sometimes the game reeks of the writing from the first season. It may not be coated in as many “hellas” or “dank O.G. bud” teenage speak as the first game but it’s still well into cornball territory. A good portion of the adolescent dialogue tries too hard to be a hardcore simulacrum of how teenagers talk–or how people from a generation or two above them think they talk. It’s a recipe for try-hard jokes and eye-rolling quips that try to cram Generation Z’s lingo where it doesn’t belong. Teenagers may indeed talk like this but it’s grating to hear in scripted, fictional media.
Films such as Superbad, The Spectacular Now, and The Edge of Seventeen and games like Oxenfree all star teenagers but well-written teenagers. Do they speak like teenagers? Not quite, because hearing actual teenagers speak does not make for good dialogue. Films and some video games like this often live in a heightened form of reality where everyone is witty and no one bats an eye because it makes for better entertainment that way. It’s hard to listen to actual teenagers–or normal people like you or me–and want that translated almost verbatim to an actual script. The endearing dad barely gets by because he’s an old dad but the other characters aren’t quite as lucky.
Other interactions are also a bit goofy but for other reasons. The game generally lacks nuance required to talk about difficult subjects it tries so hard to undertake. It was a big part of why Captain Spirit stumbled a bit since it was a bit heavy-handed about Chris’ father’s abusive, heavy hands. Life Is Strange 2 Episode 1 also tries to tackle taboo topics but doesn’t always come through with the gravitas those moments deserve.
Life Is Strange 2 Episode 1 Review: Caricature Characters
The Diaz brothers’ Hispanic background opens them up to share a tiny bit of their culture, but that also gives developer Dontnod the chance to bring up racial profiling and other nasty realities certain groups face. Like the dialogue, some of it is handled just fine but other parts are about as subtle as a grenade.
The elements are there but they’re missing the tact and depth to make these moments more impactful. Villains often feel less like people and more cartoonish because the game does not go deep enough. A touch of humanization can go a long way and if MachineGames can somehow do it with an awful person like fucking Hitler in Wolfenstein 2 (without making him likable), then Dontnod can do it with a few rednecks.
Its gameplay helps humanize both brothers but, like most titles in the genre, it’s not incredibly deep or complex. You’ll spend probably too much time slowly examining every object before moving to something a bit more involved. Minigames bring the pace up and should be in the game more often since it establishes a more direct link between you and the protagonists.
And since there’s sadly no central mechanic this time around (like, say, time manipulation), it leans more heavily on those brief diversions. It’s not yet clear how successful the game can be without a gamplay hook like the previous entry. Walking and talking is still serviceable but, at this point, it’s a bit predictable.
Life Is Strange 2 Episode 1 is a decent introduction this new season. It stumbles and succeeds in the same areas as its predecessor, but those stumbles are a bit less severe and those victories are a tad more successful. Those heartfelt scenes and solid setup give the upcoming episodes a good foundation to stand on even if the dialogue sometimes tries its best to sabotage that goodwill.
Life Is Strange 2 Episode 1 was reviewed on PS4 via a digital code provided by the publisher.