gamescom 2018

Life Is Strange 2

Making Changes For The Road Ahead
by Suriel Vazquez on Aug 21, 2018 at 03:00 AM
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Release:
Platform: PlayStation 4, Xbox One, PC

Yesterday, the world got its first look at the new setting and characters of Life is Strange 2. While that initial trailer doesn’t look like too much of departure from what we’ve come to expect from the series, I was able to gleam several new details about the game during a theater presentation for the sequel, which does make some interesting alterations to the formula.

The most significant change Life is Strange 2 makes over its predecessor is that rather than see the outcomes of your decisions manifest in the people in and around Arcadia Bay (the setting of the first Life is Strange), you’ll be taking a road trip. Life is Strange 2 follows Sean and Daniel Diaz, two brothers who’ve had to run away from home after a mysterious event occurs in their hometown of Seattle, Washington. Taking place three years after the events of the original Life is Strange, the Diaz brothers’ journey has them traveling from Seattle to Mexico, which means we’ll be seeing quite a bit of the American West Coast in Life is Strange 2.

Since many characters may not stick around as you make your way to Mexico, a huge part of the sequel will be the relationship between Sean and Daniel, which acts as the lightning rod for decision-making this time around. As his older brother, Sean is shaping what kind of person Daniel will become. 

We saw two short snippets of gameplay during the presentation, taking place in different parts of the game. The first has Sean and Daniel walking along the side of the road in the middle of a forest in the Pacific Northwest. One change that immediately stands out; running on Unreal Engine 4, the sequel looks markedly better than the original at first glance. The facial animation is also greatly improved, though I did still spot a couple of stiff interactions during our demo.

As the two head down road, Daniel spots a car with its window partially rolled down, and with a Choco Crisp bar on the dashboard. They’re his favorite, and Sean is left to choose to leave the bar alone or take it as a snack for later. In our demo, Sean chooses the latter. While it doesn’t have any immediate consequences, we’re told our decision to casually nab candy from an unknown stranger could alter how Daniel behaves down the road.

Not every choice you make is major, however; when Sean spots a trail blaze indicating a path to the campgrounds, he chooses to teach Daniel about trail blazers. And when Daniel later sees a sign telling the residents of the campgrounds to beware of animals, Sean chooses to play into that fear rather than assuage his concerns. There’s also a bit of natural conversation along the way; as the two approach the campgrounds, the brothers indulge a Lord of the Rings metaphor for their journey, though they have a quick spat over whether Sean is Aragorn or Sam in this case (Daniel, of course, is Frodo).

As the two approach a bench at the camp grounds, they begin the contemplate their current situation along with the view (Daniel, who is only nine years old, has never seen the bed of a lake at this angle). While it’s clear the two have left home due to an incident, I begin to suspect Daniel isn’t aware as to what’s going as Sean is. Daniel knows the reason they left home involves an interaction with a police officer, but when he mentions the brothers’ father, Sean cuts off the conversation. As the scene pans up and cuts to black to the tune of a melancholy guitar-centric melody, we’re told Jonathan Morali, the composer for the original game, is back for the sequel.

The second scene we see moves us back in time a bit (structurally, not literally), to what we’re told is a truncated version of the game’s opening. Sean and his friend Lyla mull over how to best text Sean’s crush, Jenn, as the two prepare for a party going on later that night. Here a few of the quirks from the series re-emerge; while I saw several instances of improved facial acting, a few scenes still felt a little stiff in terms of animation. The dialogue seems much better localized, however, even if the voice acting I heard felt a bit spotty at times. These are teenagers, though, so when Sean begins to display his interest in Jenn and Lyla replies: “Oh my god, you thirsty b----!” it’s hard not to think it’s what what an actual teenager might say.

After Sean gets home, we quick meet up with his dad in the garage. Creating diverse characters can be difficult, but Sean's father stands out as a good representation of someone with a Latino background. He has a noticeable accent, but it isn't so thick as to be tropey, and with the exception of one affectionate use of "Papito" to describe himself when Sean for a hug, he doesn't interject Spanish into every sentence he can, which is often a crutch for writers trying to make a character "sound" Latino. I don't see too much of myself in him, but as a Latino I grew up around people like him, and I was glad to see him represented in a positive light. 

Kids not getting along with their parents has been a running theme in Life is Strange, but Sean’s dad seems incredibly supportive from what I've seen. He encourages Sean to find a way to apply himself in school, though Sean isn’t sure about which field to apply himself to. Knowing he’ll have to ask sooner or later, Sean asks his dad for some money so he can stock up on supplies for the party. When his dad inquires about whether or not the money will be used for beer, Sean decides to be honest, which happens to pay off; happy his son isn’t keeping anything from him (and for doing a great job on the lawn earlier in the day), he decides to give him a whopping $40 after a quick warning telling him that he doesn’t want Sean entering any cars that night.

After a quick visit to Daniel’s room during which he tells us he’s working on secret project, we head to our room to video chat with Lyla. As we prepare our approach on Jenn later this evening (during which, in another bit of quirk writing, Lyla refers to his mother as “The Momster”), Daniel barges in to reveal his secret project; he’s figured out how to make fake blood for corn syrup and food coloring, which goes great with his new zombie mask. After Sean brushes him off, the two continue their chat, only to be interrupted again when Sean notices something going on outside and bolts out of the room.

Daniel, pretending to be a zombie, has bumped into an overly-aggressive Brett, getting fake blood smeared on his shirt. When given the choice to back his brother up or begin to question him, Sean chooses the latter, laying into him about his haphazard wandering. Brett, however, insists on goading Sean as well, poking him about his absent mother. This prompts Sean to turn heel and fight Brett. The fight is quick and doesn’t end well: Brett ends up falling on a sharp rock, and he begins to slowly writhe as Sean and Daniel realize something has gone horribly wrong.

A nearby police officer arrives on the scene, and nervously begins to shout at Sean and Daniel to lie on the ground. When the brothers’ dad appears to de-escalate the situation, things to continue to spiral out of control. A flurry of shouting, nervous voices, and one gunshot later, and Sean’s dad is dead.

The scene quickly cuts out and flashes forward. Something else has happened, and now the officer is lying on the ground as well. His squad vehicle is overturned, too, hinting that Sean might have some sort of supernatural ability similar to Max’s ability to rewind time in the first Life is Strange. As the police arrive on the scene, Sean and and barely-conscious Daniel depart, revealing the reason why Sean was so adamant about cutting off the conversation about their father in the initial scene.

These two scenes are only a small part of Life is Strange 2, and many of the most powerful questions about the game can only be answered once we have our hands on the full game come late September. How impactful will all these choices be? If Sean does indeed have some sort of power, will it tie in gameplay at some point? But even with all these unanswered questions, the improved writing expertly explored bond between two brothers, and the increased nuances with which the two scenes handled most characters shows that the team at Dontnod isn’t just resting on the success of the first Life is Strange, but is actively looking to expand the series’ reach and further improve its reputation as team full of ideas about what kinds of stories video games can handle.