The following concludes our review of Life is Strange 2. This follows our individual impressions pieces for each of the season's first four episodes and contains our impressions for both the final episode on its own and for the full season as a whole. There will be minor spoilers ahead, so read on at your own risk.
Has anyone ever experienced going on a long journey, one that proves to be so draining that by the end, everyone's asking why they ever went on the journey in the first place? As much as I enjoyed elements of Life is Strange 2, I started to feel like Daniel by the end of "Wolves," the season's fifth and final episode. The longer the final episode went on, the more I wondered why the whole saga went down the way it did. But like many exhausting and arduous expeditions, Life is Strange 2 is something where I look back at in hindsight and am ultimately glad it's one I experienced.
The Mexican elephant in the room
I certainly wasn't expecting to get through this review without addressing a major plot element that I've harped on over the course of four different impressions pieces. There are parts of Life is Strange 2 that are downright hard to watch as a Mexican person who's aware of the current political climate. The plot of Sean and Daniel watching their father get gunned down by a trigger-happy cop only for strange events to leave them both running to Mexico is something that struck a raw nerve in the first episode. The more the plot unfolded, the more the anger subsided and the more that Life is Strange 2 presented a story that, at its core, is about brotherhood. And indeed, brotherhood remains the central, critical theme in Life is Strange 2. I'll touch on that a little bit later.
While the past few episodes seemed to ease off on the idea of immigration and Mexican-Americans feeling persecuted in their own country, those images of American bigotry were front and center in this final episode. It was in the image of the miles-long border fence, in the cartoonish (yet frighteningly real) depiction of the crazed white vigilantes, or the multitude of police with their guns drawn. There is some heavy subject matter at work here, especially as Sean talks to the detained Mexican couple who have been working to cross the border. The positive is that the political themes are addressed in a nuanced manner, in such a way as to make the player think and not club them over the head. My biggest issue remains that this particular aspect of the plot feels like a uniquely Latino experience and one that wasn't able to be told by Latino people, but for what it was, I thought it was fine.
It's actually that scene with the Mexican couple where my opinion of the Life is Strange 2 plot started to change, as the whole plot started to feel more like a tragedy. As the couple told Sean about their plight and why they chose to leave an increasingly violent nation in hopes of finding peace, it started to expose Sean's idea as a total half-baked notion that he cooked up in the heat of the moment. Even as the brothers started to approach the border earlier, Daniel started to express his doubts and started lobbing up practical reasons for why this wouldn't work. They were the types of questions that should have been posed on day one, but again, this was something Sean thought of in the heat of the moment. The tragedy comes in recognizing that once things got out of control, there was no turning back on what has proven to be a bad idea. They were in for a penny, in for a pound. (On top of that, depending on the player's ending, this conversation with the couple can also act as a bit of foreshadowing.)
To sum up, when Life is Strange 2 started, I had stated that it sounded like the plot was going in an uncomfortable direction. But I wanted to give Dontnod the benefit of the doubt and see where the story ended. While there are still a few items of concern, the plot did not go where I expected it to and I think the overall story is better for it, regardless of whatever specific player ending popped up. Speaking of which, that's a good segue for what makes Life is Strange 2 truly shine.
Brothers of destruction
While Life is Strange 2 touches on some volatile themes, the story at its core is about brotherhood. It's about Sean and Daniel versus the world. As a story of two brothers who must take care of each other and rely on one another for survival in a world that's hunting them down, Life is Strange 2 is at its strongest. Dontnot does not stray from that idea in the season finale, briefly starting the story in the Arizona desert before putting the two siblings out on their own again.
The final episode felt much more story-focused, taking players to fewer areas and giving them less of a chance to explore, outside of a quick scavenger hunt in the opening minutes. That also means less of an opportunity to play around with Daniel, only communicating with him via walkie talkie for most of the episode's first half. It's once Sean and Daniel get entangled with the border patrol that the intensity starts to ratchet up, which also doubles as one last chance to act as Daniel's guide.
In fact, it's the role model element that proves to be Life is Strange 2's most captivating mechanic. The game has seven endings total and they're mainly decided by two factors: the final decision during the episode's climax and how much of a positive or negative influence Sean was over the course of the story. In that sense, the various decisions you make, how you interact with Daniel, how you interact with others, the relationships you choose to maintain all factor into how the game's story will ultimately end. And while one big criticism of the first Life is Strange was that there felt like one clear "canonical" ending and a second ending that felt like more of an afterthought, that doesn't feel like the case in this game. The endings all have their own sense of gravity to the point where you'll look back at your choices and wonder whether you would have changed anything in hindsight.
Born to run
Life is Strange 2 does feature a few other mechanics that are new to the series, but ones that I feel like were downplayed more towards the end of the story. One thing I noticed as the series went on was that money started to matter less and less. At the start of the story, the implication is that Sean needs to keep track of his finances since he and Daniel will be on the run. So the idea becomes that how much money you have and what you choose to spend it on matters over the course of the game. However, this mechanic feels like it's completely shuffled off to the side in the later episodes and doesn't really come into play again. In "Wolves," the mechanic is never dealt with at all.
The other mechanic is that the world continues to unfold over the course of time, even as Sean is exploring or having conversations. This idea worked to great effect in the first few episodes and while there was a good instance of it put to use during the opening scavenger hunt, it doesn't feel like Dontnod made the most of this mechanic. There could have been more interesting ways to use this idea other than having Sean sit and wait patiently for the next story event to trigger.
As a story of family, specifically one of two brothers out to fend for themselves in a world that's out to get them, Life is Strange 2 is outstanding. It's a story that's helped greatly by some powerful performances by the game's voice cast, able to give weight to some of the story's more emotional moments and even able to make the most out of some of the cheesier dialogue. The art also feels like a big improvement over the first Life is Strange, which sometimes felt hampered by lifeless animations. There are a few instances where the animation looks a little silly, but I can recognize it as a creative choice, because otherwise, there are some instances where this story would get surprisingly bloody.
While the first Life is Strange was a fantastic story that I felt stumbled to the finish line, Life is Strange 2 feels the opposite. It started rough and gradually grew into a strong tale of sibling's rasing one another. How they go about raising one another is ultimately up to you.
This review is based on a PlayStation 4 code provided by the publisher. Life is Strange 2 is available now on PC, PlayStation 4, and Xbox One for $39.99 for all five episodes. The game is rated M. For more on Life is Strange 2, catch up on our impressions of Roads, Rules, Wastelands, and Faith.
Life is Strange 2
- A beautiful story of brotherhood and a tragic journey
- Tackles heavy subject matter and gets better at doing so as the story goes on
- Role model mechanic is fantastic and makes choice feel like it truly matters
- The choice to interact with objects yourself or with Daniel is really cool
- Standout voice acting performances
- Art and animation feel like they're improved
- Wraps up strong with seven different endings
- The story starts rough
- Keeping track of money doesn't matter
- Some characters come off as caricatures
- Still not over what happened to the dog in Episode 2
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