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The Life is Strange (LiS) game series is known for its supernatural realism, with time travelling and supernaturally charged explosions across games. The initial absence of supernatural abilities that The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit (Captain Spirit) establishes carries over into Life is Strange 2 (LiS 2), where for the first twenty minutes of gameplay, nothing of supernatural note occurs. Instead, we are subject to a false sense of security with the mundanity of playable protagonist Sean’s life, where he debates with his family over who should have the last Chock-O-Crisp and prepares for a party. It ultimately highlights the important things in his life. Purely because of this security, the main game becomes all the more powerful.
The events leading to Sean and Daniel’s life on the run are near traumatic to play through. Since such a sense of normality is initially created, it comes as a hand-over-mouth shock that when Sean fights with neighbour Brett after Brett is aggressively racist towards the boys – “go back to your own country” – Brett falls backwards and appears to be paralysed, with unnerving fidgets and ragged breaths. This is followed by a police officer investigating Brett’s fall, leading to the police officer shooting the boys’ Mexican father, Esteban, dead. Immediately, to mixed reception, LiS 2 is distanced from previous LiS games by having a large focus on political issues, including racism and police brutality.
This whole sequence, ending with Daniel causing the explosion, leaves Brett, Esteban, and the police officer supposedly dead, as well as cars upturned, and their house collapsed. This frames Sean and Daniel, the lone survivors, as the perpetrators, leading to them fleeing out of racism induced fear.
As the boys flee to potential family in Mexico in a template of an American road trip film, players are given the option to steal food and equipment that will keep the boys alive – such as camping equipment, clothes, Chock-O-Crisp, and food – ultimately testing players’ will to care for the boys and their moral compass.
This is a vital part of game play when the boys visit a gas station, where players can beg for food from an arguing family, as well as either stealing or buying food. I chose to make Sean steal the cheapest item in the store (a loaf of bread) but buy everything else, including a sleeping bag. However, this caught up with me when the owner’s husband later interrogates Sean about how much food he had with eager maliciousness towards the half-Mexican boys and violent actions. This led to Sean being held captive by the owners until police arrived.
One moral dilemma after another follows as players are given the opportunity, upon Dan aiding an escape, to steal the camping equipment from the store if they knock out the owner. Up to that point, Sean had been instilling that he didn’t want Daniel to be cold like the previous night, hence why I’d bought the sleeping bag. But when given the option to knock out the owner and steal the tents, I couldn’t.
Sean and Daniel are inherently good children, who have been forced into an awful situation; it’s the key message of the game to this point. In this hardest decision of the episode to resort to violence, I chose to flee. The way I saw it at the time, if Sean injured the man, and police were tracing him and Dan, then there would be further cause for their arrest/a more negative outcome if they injured someone.
The joy of choice-based games means you can see what other players chose to do in situations, including the outcomes of this hard decision. At the time of playing, the majority of players had stolen the tents, and some had made Dan steal items from the shop. I remember being appalled by this news, both out of fear that I’d doomed Dan and Sean to a snow-based death and shock that players had made sweet little Dan steal. I dread to think what other opportunities there will be to steer Dan in future episodes.
Worthy of note is also the references to LiS within the sequel. On opening the game, players are asked if they played LiS and if so, what choice they made at the end of the game: to save Chloe or save Arcadia Bay. Presumably, this would influence if Arcadia Bay exists or not in the timeline of LiS 2. In announcements for LiS 2, players were informed that LiS 2 would not involve Chloe, Max, or other characters from LiS. This left me confused at the menu screen as to the influence of the decision on LiS 2. Later in Episode 1, we are at lookout over a large bay with a lighthouse. The lighthouse is familiar and identifiable by its position of a cliff to the right of a bustling sea town, much like the well-visited lighthouse of LiS. The sign for Arcadia Bay is shown at the lookout at the end of this scene.
Whilst this is a nice nod to the first LiS, it did feel a little unneeded. LiS received criticism for its lack of choice at the end of the game, where no matter what choices players made throughout their gameplay, it all boiled down to the decision of saving Chloe or Arcadia Bay. This was apparently due to a rushed finishing process for the final episode of LiS. By including this option at the opening of LiS 2, it feels like an attempt by the developers to insist that the choice at the end of LiS was important. However, by only seeing Arcadia Bay in passing, it gives players a sense of false hope as to the importance of their choices in the previous game. By reminding me of this, I felt a sense of dread towards the finale of LiS 2 and if it would also resort to the cop out decision that LiS had.
Despite the general mixed reception towards the “too political” (via the Life is Strange 2 Wiki) focus of LiS 2, LiS 2 is worthy of praise and due attention; I still value it as an addition to LiS and am eager to play more. However, I am already taking emotional precautions for the likelihood of either Sean or Dan, or both, dying.