Life is Strange 2 - Episode 1: Roads Review

By Rebecca Smith, 2 months ago
The conclusion of Life Is Strange was truly the end of the story for its main characters, Max Caulfield and Chloe Price. With fans clamouring for a sequel, developer Dontnod Entertainment needed to take a completely different approach. The result is a franchise that doesn't focus on specific characters, instead choosing to concentrate on the game's universe and the many different people within it. Life is Strange 2 introduces new characters and a new setting but keeps the game mechanics with which players are familiar. The premiere episode is a bit of a slow burner, but it teases just enough to lead us to believe things will get far more energetic in the season to come.

26/09/2018 - Carousel

A police car is patrolling the quiet suburbs of Seattle. Off camera, the officer spots a fight in progress and pulls over to stop it. We hear shouting and gunshots before a mysterious explosion sends both the officer and his patrol car flying backward. The scene fades away and we join 16-year-old Sean Diaz, the son of Mexican immigrants. He lives with his father and 9-year-old brother Daniel, and his only concerns are to gather supplies ready for a party that night — he might even manage to hook up with his crush. However, the events depicted in the opening cutscene change those concerns drastically, and the two brothers are forced to go on the run, leaving everything and everybody they knew behind them.

Despite initial appearances, the bond among the members of the Diaz household was strong, and the relationship between the two brothers as they head out into the unknown is the most consistent and well written part of the episode. The role of caregiver is completely alien to Sean; he clearly struggles to adapt and find a balance between being a big brother and being a parent, especially while trying to protect Daniel from the gravity of the situation. His decisions affect Daniel's behaviour in subtle ways, and even the smallest of lies could shake Daniel's trust in him. There are plenty of opportunities for players to shape this relationship as they see fit, although the full ramifications of many of those decisions will not be apparent until later episodes.

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A new gameplay factor for this story centres around the meagre amount of money the boys are carrying. At different places along the way, players have to choose which supplies they wish to buy, making sure they have enough food to get by, as well as picking up equipment that might make sleeping rough a bit easier. If there's stuff that they can't afford, or you just don't want to pay for it, there's always the option to steal it instead. The problem is not only that you have to make sure Sean isn't caught, the young and impressionable Daniel is watching Sean's every move. He'll pick up any bad habits that Sean develops, and it's the most obvious impact your actions and decisions have in this episode.

Starvation and braving the elements aren't the only problems the boys face. The game is set in a US just before the 2016 election where attitudes toward immigrant families are indifferent at best and hostile at worst. They face prejudice simply based on the colour of their skin, both from random strangers and the police. The somewhat delicate subject is dealt with as subtly as a bull in a china shop, and the result is a situation that will make players uncomfortable for the wrong reasons, not being sure whether it's meant to be a representation of the current political climate or an over-the-top parody. It's a bit of a let down for a developer who managed to deal with subjects like mental health and bullying with far more tact in Life is Strange.

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While the two boys take centre stage, their plight means they're never in the same place for long. There are plenty of characters to meet as the episode progresses, but you never get to see them for long enough to get more than a brief glimpse into their personalities. For some characters that seems to be a good thing, but for others they're gone all too soon. Instead, it's left to the setting to take some of the limelight away from the brothers. The roadtrip means there's a much more diverse set of locations in this episode. While you may not need a breather from the gameplay, it's worth taking the opportunities provided to pause for a while and soak up the setting, because then you'll notice just how much care Dontnod has put into detailing the boys' surroundings.

In terms of gameplay, if you played The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, you might be expecting some puzzle solving, but Roads shows no sign of this. Sean also lacks the confidence for something like Chloe's backchat mechanic, and there are no signs of superpowers... yet. For now, players are left with gentle exploration and making important conversation decisions, several of which challenge your morals in ways you wouldn't expect, but that's part of the charm of this franchise. It means the episode is a bit of a slow burner, but there are several hints throughout the episode to suggest the gameplay may be spiced up in the future with the introduction of a new mechanic. We'll have to wait and see.

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The episode's achievements are the usual Life Is Strange fare. There's an achievement for completing the episode, and several for finding the optional collectibles throughout the episode, in this case souvenirs that the boys can pick up and use to customise Sean's backpack. Some of these do require a specific set of circumstances to find, but if you miss them the first time through, there's a mode that allows you to repeat scenes at your leisure and pick them up after. Finally, as a budding artist, Sean can opt to sit for a while and sketch his surroundings, putting as much detail into his work as you wish. There's a single achievement for starting one sketch during the episode and there are several opportunities to do this.

Check out our Best Xbox Adventure Games Available in 2018 article for a compilation of other great games in this genre.

Summary

Life is Strange 2 - Episode 1: Roads introduces the two Diaz brothers forced to go on the run, leaving everything and everybody they knew behind them. Their strong relationship is the focus and the best part of the episode, and there are plenty of opportunities for players to shape this relationship as they see fit, even if the results of many of the challenging moral decisions are not yet apparent. Their road trip also gives the opportunity for Dontnod to show off their environmental design skills with a diverse set of locations that beg for players to pause for a while. Unfortunately the episode is let down by the less than subtle way it deals with delicate subjects like racism, as well as gameplay that means this episode feels like quite a slow start to the story. There are several hints throughout the episode to suggest the gameplay may be spiced up in the future, and it may need it if players are going to make it through to the end of the story.
3.5 / 5
Life is Strange 2
Positives
  • Brothers' relationship is consistent and well written with plenty of opportunities for players to shape it
  • Beautiful and diverse environments
Negatives
  • Fails to deal with delicate subjects well
  • Gameplay seems to be missing something
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent four hours trying not to get the boys killed or let them get caught as they travelled across the country. She regrets very few of her decisions, and she even managed to collect all nine of the episode's achievements first time of asking. An Xbox One code was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Please read our Review and Ethics Statement for more information.
Rebecca Smith
Written by Rebecca Smith
Rebecca is the Newshound Manager at TrueGaming Network. She has been contributing articles since 2010, especially those that involve intimidatingly long lists. When not writing news, she works in an independent game shop so that she can spend all day talking about games too. She'll occasionally go outside.