The nuanced, story-driven Life is Strange series returned for another shot at our heartstrings in 2018. With this first chapter in an unapologetically modern tale, titled ‘Roads’, Dontnod has proven once again that it knows how to deliver both larger-than-life superpowers and a poignant, gritty narrative within the political and social climate of a divided society.
The story returns to America’s North West, just a hop away from Arcadia Bay’s conspicuous lighthouse. A close-knit and loving family, brought to life by all-too-familiar brotherly feuds, is torn apart by an otherwise humdrum event within a modern coming-of-age story. In traditional Dontnod fashion, brothers Sean and Daniel are pushed into a story of escape, survival, growing up, and understanding – as approachable as it is fantastic.
As the story unfurls, we find the brothers on the run through the dense forest surrounding Seattle. The game is insistent that you find meaning and character growth in the smallest actions. Do you steal a chocolate bar to cheer up your unaware brother, or try to remain a positive influence as you come to terms with the new role forced upon you by the past day’s events?
These formative decisions are set against a backdrop of incredible beauty and foreboding. As you trudge through the world, the expansive surroundings are both to be enjoyed and feared – Dontnod filling the world with opportunities to teach, and in some cases offer a word of warning.
Despite Sean alone grasping the imminent danger facing the brothers on this seemingly doomed venture, even he is unprepared for the harsh reality of transient life.
Not the least of which is the danger posed by preconceptions and political beliefs. Dontnod doesn’t shy away from holding a mirror up to modern society with Life is Strange 2, allowing both you and the characters to learn the grim face of bigotry. The salvation of a rest stop after a long, tiresome walk becomes a tragic scene of imprisonment, challenging your actions but also a young adult’s understanding of the world, all while a dangerous, visceral dimension enters full-force into the narrative.
But between the ups and downs of the Diaz’s story, there’s a lot to love about how the Life is Strange series tells its story. Music especially is used to evoke both cruel emotion and vicarious joy with incredible efficacy.
From the youthful energy of the story’s introduction, marked by Phoenix’s Lisztomania, to the peaceful, promising, and often minor tones of the acoustic closing composition, Dontnod has yet again cracked just what it is to make an impactful soundtrack. One that gives new weight to popular songs you may have heard a thousand times, and original arrangements that will set the scene for many chapters to come.
This first chapter of Life is Strange 2 has set up a tale of responsibility and growth. There’s an incredible weight behind every player action: moments that make you pause and breathe in your surroundings. With the promise of an almost totally unexplored power, a changing and challenging landscape, and characters still coming to terms with the true meaning of past events, Life is Strange 2 will surely continue to stun, provoke, and move in 2019.