Life is Strange 2: More Than Just Choices
Episode one of long awaited, angsty teen drama Life is Strange 2 is finally here and it’s already got us fully emotionally engaged in the plight of the Diaz brothers as they embark on a cross-country road trip while on the run after witnessing their father being shot by a police officer. So far, the three previous instalments in this franchise (including Life is Strange 2 prologue The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit) have all managed to tell gut-punching stories carried by a series of choices, each with their own consequences and outcomes to make you think twice before saying something in fear of what the implications could be. Life is Strange 2 is no different in this respect as we, as older brother Sean, are tasked with making numerous choices about how we interact with the world around us as well as the people we talk to. However, Life is Strange 2 is set to be particularly cruel to our fragile hearts as it appears that we’ll be worrying about more than just high school drama. Here is how Life is Strange 2 is a game about making choices that are more than just choices.
Beware of major spoilers for the Life is Strange series ahead!
When we first entered Arcadia Bay as nerdy photography student Max in Life is Strange, we were quickly introduced to the game’s main gameplay mechanic after witnessing the shooting of best friend Chloe: the ability to rewind time. In the context of a game where choice is everything, this ability to re-do interactions with the cast of colourful characters and solve some environmental puzzles is a useful one, but it also played directly into the game’s themes of chaos theory and the butterfly effect – symbolised with the appearance of a butterfly. Not only did this subtext emphasise the potential impact of seemingly insignificant choices could have on the bigger events, it more importantly encouraged players to experiment with possible outcomes before deciding on what we believed was the right decision; Max herself would even question these decisions and suggest that the alternative could be more beneficial to further nudge us to go back and see what would happen.
Prequel Before the Storm, on the other hand, saw players take control of Chloe during the time shortly before Max arrived back on the scene to focus on her budding relationship with Rachel Amber, the girl at the centre of a mystery in the first game who’s discovered to have met a tragic end. Choice is again the key gameplay here, but, unlike its predecessor, there’s no rewind ability meaning that we only had one shot and had to live with the decisions we made and face their consequences head-on. By removing the time travel element of the first game, Before the Storm was able to tell the same breed of artistic but heart-wrenching tale, but in a more grounded manner that forced us to think on our feet.
Then there came the short but very sweet Captain Spirit that saw us play as 10-year-old boy Chris Ericson as he embarked on a superhero adventure of his own one Saturday morning in a bid to escape from his father’s alcoholism. While this game still presented choices, the purpose of this game was more so to introduce us to the sort of gameplay we could expect from Life is Strange 2 whereby the choices made were tailored to provide an insight into a character we’ll likely be seeing again very soon (it’s also reported that the choices made will also impact Life is Strange 2).
Each of these three games implement decision making and player choice in different ways to suit the specific themes and narrative of each game. Moreover, each have the commonality that the choices we made specifically effected our character and their path through the narrative. Of course, some other characters’ fates was tied to the decisions we made such as whether or not Kate committed suicide or if Chloe’s step-dad was given the boot. However these moments don’t have a direct impact on the protagonist, instead demonstrating the effects of their actions in often harrowing ways.
Life is Strange 2 is different. Choices still yield consequences, but it’s evident even at this early stage that these consequences will resonate much deeper. This is because we not only have to think about what is the better choice for Sean to make, but by making us solely responsible for our younger brother Daniel’s well-being, and thanks to some truly incredible writing and voice acting, this is something you will care a lot about within moments of meeting him. During the boys’ first outing, all too often we found ourselves turning back to check that young Daniel was still following, stopping our own exploration to engage with him to cheer him up or checking if berries were safe to eat, and weighing the cost of treating him to a chocolate bar to fulfil an earlier promise. Daniel’s presence is always felt, and it’s not just how we interact with him that effects him.
Like all young children, Daniel is impressionable and will look to adults to learn how the world works; since Sean is now the closest thing Daniel has to a parental figure, we aren’t just a babysitter, but a teacher. After making certain choices in Life is Strange 2, you’ll see two wolves appear in the bottom corner. This means that your actions have influenced Daniel in some way. For instance, if you decide to take a chocolate bar sitting in a car, you’ll be showing him how to steal. Likewise, begging for food from a family could mean Daniel will be more willing to approach strangers to swindle a snack.
Life is Strange 2, like the games that came before, is still an interactive, character-driven story based on branching narratives and choices. What makes this game stand out is that the choices we make aren’t just a clever storytelling device, but will ultimately have a knock-on effect on little Daniel (and his adorable puppy companion Mushroom), consequently giving more weight to our every action – whether we know it’ll influence him or not. Life is Strange 2 isn’t just about making pathing our own adventure; by giving players the responsibility of caring for their younger brother, this game has upped the stakes in ways we cannot wait to see play out in the coming episodes.