Life Is Strange 2 Review – A stranger tale, but not a better one

After Life Is Strange and Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, the third game in the franchise, Life Is Strange 2 had a lot to live up to. With two major but unique titles already in the franchise, the direction the next game would take was in question as the series already explored the city of Arcadia Bay with the first two titles.

Life Is Strange 2 separates itself quickly, introducing players to two new main characters, Sean and Daniel Diaz.  The Diaz brothers have a nice life in Seattle which is upended by an event where their father and a police officer are killed and they choose to flee to the Mexican town of Puerto Lobos 

Life Is Strange 2 also takes a different approach to its story.  Where Life Is Strange and Before the Storm both took a look at the life of Max Caulfield following her through a normal progression of her day, Life Is Strange 2 becomes more episodic, not just from the content delivery but from the format of the story. 

Events happen to the Diaz brother, but rather than have a predictable progression from the story, the story becomes vague about “What happens next”.  The brothers leave Seattle, and then hike on a trail, then go to a gas station, then move on to a motel.  None of these scenes feel connected to the rest, but there’s limited progression between them.   You might see the guy who picks them up after the gas station drop them off at the motel, but I constantly felt a question of “Why?”  Why not stay with the helpful friend where it’s safe, instead of risk another scene.

The simple answer is it’s because that’s how the story is written, it’s a series of vignettes where the writer can moralize or discuss different issues but it’s done in such a way that it’s blatantly obvious that Life Is Strange 2 is more interesting in its story pieces, then the full narrative of the entire story.  While this improves by the third episode, the first two episodes and the connection between the episodes feel more disjointed than that should be. 

The characters were the strongest part of the first two games, but here, while the Diaz Brothers remain the focus of the story, there’s a single additional character in the entire story that remains a focus for more than a full episode.  And while that character is important to the story, it seems that Life Is Strange 2 generates characters only to toss them away at the first chance they get.  

There are interesting characters, I kept hoping that some of my favorite characters would return, even to have a major and impactful final episode, and while there are some characters who might appear for a second in the final cutscene, everything feels like they are single-serving experiences just created to be disposable.

The only characters in Life Is Strange 2 that feel like they get a proper amount of development are the group the brothers meet in the third episode.  This is a collective that the main characters join and spend time with, and that’s where Life Is Strange 2’s story is the strongest when it takes the time to explore and make the characters feel like the other characters are important to the story, but sure enough by the end of the episode, all the development in those characters are quickly shoved aside to move on to the story element, and the players are left feeling lost again.   

It’s not being lost because of a lack of direction but an inability to hold on to anything of value in the story.  A story that seems too eager to explore its themes that ignores that the player wants to have something more than a fleeting experience with every character in the game.  Players will constantly be trying to make lasting relationships with almost anyone, even choosing options in the hope those characters might reappear and yet Life Is Strange 2 constantly acts like it doesn’t want to invest any additional time into any character.  It has more important story elements to rush to.

The real problem is the story that Life Is Strange 2 tells struggles due to the lost consistency in characters. Life Is Strange 2 wants players to feel how Sean and Daniel Diaz feel, as two children of immigrants, who are on the run from the police. That run from the police feels like a forced reason, it could work.  The problem is everything that happens from that point makes the player feel the writer’s hand. 

A major plot point in Life Is Strange 2 is a desire to talk about racism.  But Life Is Strange 2 can’t make a compelling or interesting antagonist for even a short vignette.  Rather than spend any time exploring racism, or racist people, characters hate Sean and Daniel because those characters are racist.  That’s the entire arc of the villains in each of these pieces,   They are single-note and uninteresting characters, not because of their racism, but rather the lack of anything else about them.  

Racism is a problem, but it’s more powerful when someone can realize anyone could be racist, or that racists may be able to hide their racism.   Instead, the multiple times that Life Is Strange 2 confronts Racism, they choose the most in-your-face examples of it with one-dimensional characters who only exist to be “Racists” so they could play out their moral stories and show people what it’s like.

But what’s worse is Life Is Strange 2 feels like it has nothing to say about Racism.  It tries to show it’s bad in a blatantly obvious way, showing the player that “racism exists.”  But it feels unable or unwilling to go any farther than that, yet it returns to that theme at least three times throughout the story and does about the same story with each instance.

The time this game came out also has an issue.  This could be a cautionary tale in 2014 or 2015.  Maybe it could have been a relevant tale in 2016 with the election or a worrisome look at the potential future in 2017.  But Life Is Strange 2 came out in 2018 through 2019, taking a full year to release, and yet it feels like it has nothing to add to the conversation.  

Looking back at it, it feels “quaint” from the 2021 perspective, however even at the time, there were much more important and relevant examples of racism, and no one needed reminding that racism was real.  Rather if someone needed that reminder, they likely wouldn’t play this game, or likely would ignore the repeated message of the game. 

And how I wish that was the core problem of the game, a repetitive message that has already been told, but sadly that’s just one of the flaws, yet the most obvious and easiest to talk about. 

Life Is Strange as a series has had two amazing experiences that evolved what stories in games could be, but it feels like Life Is Strange 2 has taken a massive step back.  The boys are given a dog, but then that dog is slaughtered in a way that feels the cruelly manipulative way that feels beneath the level of storytelling that should be exhibited.

Life Is Strange 2 also wants players to feel like they are imperiled and their decision matters, but so many decisions are just thrown around as if they don’t matter.  Money is an especially major part of the story that is brought up in almost every episode, and yet the “money” the brothers have never is consistent.  There are points where they have over a thousand dollars and points where they have almost nothing, and it’s more about what the story wants to do with the money, than anything. 

But the biggest fault of Life Is Strange 2 is the fact that the entire game revolves around the brother.  One of the two gets a strange and unique power.  In Life Is Strange, Maxine Caulfield gets the ability to rewind time and it feels both integral and important to the story.  It gave the player a new level of control in a genre that felt like it had stagnated.  It’s the reason why Life Is Strange became a hit. 

But Life Is Strange 2 has a superpower that feels like it doesn’t want to explore, integrate into the story, nor does it attempt to do so.  It’s just an ability that becomes a core of the power, not a question of what the power is but rather how it will be used.  Yet players can’t explore the power, it just exists as a rather dull plot point, almost like a weapon that players have to decide when to fire or not.  

This is as a superpower in a world without superpowers, this is still a major life-changing ability, and yet again, Life Is Strange 2 decides it’s not interested or willing to develop it into anything more than “you can do something slightly different”.     Where Life Is Strange found a way to incorporate its power into an interesting mechanic, and Before the Storm’s arguments tried to do something unique, Life Is Strange 2 is just played like a normal Telltale storybook, only that some choices are “use the superpower.”. 

The fact is Life Is Strange 2 struggles from a really bad issue.  It’s a sequel to a successful game, but it chooses not to do anything similar to the original game.  It doesn’t want to tell a mostly linear story with characters that evolve over 5 chapters, and that players get to know and start to care for.  Instead, it wants to focus on only two characters and their journey. 

It is still using the Life Is Strange name, so it’s associating with an established franchise, but then does something so radically different, and for that, it’s a hard experience to judge. 

But even if players are accepting of a massive change in theme and storytelling, Life Is Strange 2 struggles to justify its existence.  Where Life Is Strange told an excellent story, and Before the Story explored their characters, Life Is Strange 2 just can’t measure up to either title. 

That’s not to say Life Is Strange 2 does nothing right.  There are multiple different endings depending on choices made throughout the story.  Each ending is different and unique that players will likely want to see all of them, though that will likely be done through youtube for the ones they can’t reach easily. 

It’s just that it’s not enough, and ultimately Life Is Strange 2 let me down when I was expecting a game that would be a follow up to the very successful first title, Life Is Strange 2 just made me more upset that I had to sit through its weaker stories and experience.  

I can only hope the next title in this series, True Colors, can once again do something interesting, or at least create a tale that is worthy to sit alongside the other titles. 

For Life Is Strange 2, I give it an arbitrary 


Truthfully I would probably have stopped playing Life Is Strange 2 around Episode Two out of the Five if I wasn’t reviewing it.  Even after playing through the excellent episode Three, I still think that would have been the correct choice.

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