Welcome to The Play-By-Play, a column where I’ll be writing about an episodic game series as I play through the season, sharing my thoughts on the storyline, the game, and generally any other things that I’ve picked up on. Today, we’re continuing our journey with Dontnod’s Life Is Strange 2.
Autumn has now fully set in – the days are colder, the nights are longer, and that desire to settle down with a good, cozy story is getting stronger and stronger. I played the first episode of Life Is Strange 2 a couple of months ago, and while I’ve been eagerly anticipating seeing what comes next, I hadn’t been able to find the time to sit down with it the way I wanted. Until this past weekend, that is.
Both Life Is Strange and Life Is Strange 2, and possibly new release True Colours, feel like distinctly autumnal games – the kind of experience that begs to be played on a cold evening with a blanket and a hot drink. Which is exactly what I did when I settled down with episode two in brothers Sean and Daniel’s journey.
To recap, the brothers have fled their home after an altercation with their white next door neighbour and a policeman resulted in their father getting shot, and the policeman being seriously injured, if not killed, when a panicked outburst from little brother Daniel results in his supernatural abilities being awakened. While on the run, the boys camped out in the wilderness, were attacked by a racist petrol stop owner, before being rescued by a kind journalist who helped them escape and set them up with a motel room and a little money. In the last moments of the episode, Daniel discovers the truth about the incident – that his father is dead – and once again begins manifesting supernatural abilities as Sean tries to comfort him. It was certainly an eventful episode, one that set up a number of threads for the rest of the season to follow.
Episode two is a much more subdued affair as we watch Daniel begin to understand how to use his powers and Sean struggle to be an authority figure for his brother while still very much a scared and unsure kid himself. I think this is one of the things that has really stood out to me with Dontnod’s storytelling and characterisation with this second installment in the Life Is Strange franchise – the characters very much feel their age. We often see self-assured teenagers in media who don’t need the support of adults in their lives, who know exactly what they’re doing and how to do it. In Sean, we see a character who, while having to appear confident and in control for the sake of his brother, often looks like he is struggling with the weight of a responsibility he wasn’t prepared to take up. When the story leads the brothers to their maternal grandparents’ house, Sean’s relief that he can rely, even if only a little, on the adults in his life is palpable.
True to its title, the second episode spends a lot of time looking at rules, their place in our lives and the affects they can have on us. At the aforementioned grandparents house, grandmother Claire has a number of rules to keep her life in check, which can at times feel stifling for the boys. They aren’t allowed to use the phone or the internet, they can’t go outside (for fear that the police will find them) and they have to keep everything clean and tidy. They’re also not allowed to go inside the locked room on the first floor (which, it turns out, was their prodigal mother’s childhood room), a rule which, of course, gets broken at the end of the game, leading to the lone moment of confrontation in this episode.
Claire isn’t the only one laying down the law though. As Daniel’s control over his powers grow, so does his desire to use them to make his life easier. In my version of events however, a somewhat fearful Sean encouraged Daniel to refrain from using his powers as much as possible, and forbidding the use of them in front of others. The Sean of my tale was so afraid of what could happen if people found out about his brother’s powers that it eventually lead to Daniel not using them to save the life of the boy next door as he jumped out in front of a police car – an accident that he now blames me for.
I was impressed that this event can change pretty drastically based on how you’ve made Daniel feel about his powers. In my story, when Daniel used his powers in front of the boy, he pretended that they were actually the boy’s powers so as to not reveal his secret. While I could’ve encouraged him to be honest about the situation, I instead chose to tell him to keep the truth to himself. Depending on how I’d pushed Daniel to view his powers, he might have saved the boy’s life, or, the boy might never have believed he had powers and might not have jumped in front of the car in the first place. Instances like this are what make the Life Is Strange games so good, and make me so excited to see the end results page with the various possibilities that could’ve happened during my playthrough.
Overall, Rules was a slightly slower episode than its predecessor, but it still had its dramatic moments, and it gave the relationships involved in the story some much needed breathing space after a hectic first episode. I look forward to playing more and reporting back on episode three.