Every time I look in the mirror after my morning shower, I see a spiral tattooed on my chest. It has a couple of circles and a cross in one of the ends. It’s one of the most meaningful symbols of Life is Strange, a game that deeply moved me and changed the way I look at videogames. As you may have guessed, that game is quite important for me, which is why I’ve always been quite worried about the excessive follow-ups it has received. Its prequel, Before the Storm, albeit being received with positive response, was not of my liking, and even if the sequel was going to be developed by the original team, I still had my doubts. So, the first episode of Life is Strange 2, Roads, is here, and tells a very different story. In fact, playing the original game isn’t necessary at all, as the ties are minimal. But is it any good? Let’s find out!
This is one of those reviews in which I’m going to have to be extremely vague about the storyline. Not because of the strength of the spoilers or the impact they create, but because of how amazingly the different plot points are shown to the player. So, we play as Sean Díaz, a teenager who will find himself in the middle of a very difficult situation and will have to take his younger brother, Daniel, away from home. Their relationship will be the central theme of this game, and their journey, the excuse to deep dive into human relationships, brotherhood, and politics.
Yes, politics. It seems that Life is Strange will be a franchise that will depict social minorities in their games, as the first title was quite known for its abundance of LGBT+ characters, and this time around, the protagonists are two kids from a Latin-American family living in the USA. However, that depiction is much more important this time around, as instead of just featuring minorities in order to raise awareness, it actually writes a story that wouldn’t be possible without them. Many scenes are presented in which racism is the origin of the situation shown, and developer Dontnod doesn’t try to tiptoe around the topic. They instead show how terrible the consequences of xenophobia are, and how terribly some people are treated just because of their skin colour. The writing team even mentions certain orange president’s plans in a scene, which I thought to be brave, bold and brilliant. As certain character in the game says: politics are everywhere.
The whole story is presented beautifully, in a much more mature and profound way than its predecessors. It is a tale with more than one point of view, too, as both brothers won’t have all the information available at all times. This situation is handled with a lot of humanity, with many foreseeable issues coming up between both of them, without making them too obvious or dull. Responsibility is one of the biggest themes, having to take care of the younger brother, and balancing his well-being and his relationship towards you isn’t an easy task: with limited resources, it wouldn’t make sense to spend lots of money on chocolate bars, but Daniel loves them and he’ll definitely be upset with you if you don’t. It may sound overly simplistic, but this mechanic is nicely used throughout the 3 to 4 hours of gameplay.
With those themes in hand, the symbols used throughout the game had to evolve too. The butterfly that used to represent how decisions impact the world around us is now gone, and replaced with two wolves, representing both brothers. Decisions will have effect in their relationship, and the rest of the world won’t be as important as the sibling. Wolves can be found elsewhere too, quite explicitly in fact, which only means how focused the developers have been while building this bond. The result is indeed quite impressive.
Pop Culture is an essential part of the Life is Strange universe, and this first episode doubles down in that objective: characters talk about games all the time, with references to games like Minecraft and The Last of Us. These lines do not come across as forced (as it happens almost every time), in fact, they always seem to be clever and enjoyable.
Graphics have evolved, yet haven’t lost their personality. The game still boasts beautiful hand-drawn textures, but Dontnod has thrown many new effects into the sceneries. Lighting has achieved the most significant evolution, with incredible light rays and shadows everywhere. All in all, the result is jaw-dropping. In an era of ray-tracing and impossible techniques of anti-aliasing, it definitely doesn’t have generation-defining graphics, but they are so warm and pleasing, and the effort in graphic design so noticeable, that it may have the most enjoyable visuals I’ve played in recent years.
More importantly, Roads is directed with a craftsmanship that’s very unusual in this medium. It has lots of personality, and it feels like a carefully constructed experience due to some great camera work, with lots of immersive cinematography and creative shots that beautifully enhance the game. It has a special charm to it that makes it unlike any other game I’ve played in recent years.
It’s just the first of five episode, but it’s left me eagerly wanting more. Not because of a big cliffhanger during the last few minutes, but because I genuinely care about the journey both characters are going through. The story plays just the right notes, without a single misstep, and everything is perfectly paced. Its activist nature is wonderful, and makes the game even more valuable than it already is. Touching, beautiful, fun… Life is Strange 2 is a lot of things. But most importantly, it’s the sequel we wished it was. 10/10
P.S. Happy two year anniversary, mymoviecollection.blog!