Y’all, I’m so excited to be able to bring this review to you. Square Enix graciously provided me with a code for the Switch port of Life Is Strange 2, and I couldn’t be more impressed. Life Is Strange 2 follows in its predecessor’s footsteps as a graphic adventure game, and if that’s your preferred genre, I cannot recommend this title enough.
Life Is Strange 2 takes the form of a trip along the American West Coast taken by two fugitive brothers, Sean Diaz, whom you play, and his younger brother Daniel. The two boys are on the run after the revelation of Daniel’s telekinetic powers in which their neighbor was injured, their father killed by a police officer, and a massive explosion occurred. The boys’ intended goal is to make it out of the United States and to get to Puerto Lobos, their father’s hometown.
Along the way, they encounter criminal freighthoppers, FBI agents, a would-be cult leader, and various other characters that help or hinder the boys in their journey to Mexico. Depending on the choices you make as Sean, Daniel can become either moral or immoral, and Life Is Strange 2 really does allow for you to choose the darker path.
I don’t want to go into the specifics much in order to avoid too many spoilers, but Sean encounters racism and gun-violence. His responses to those events influence Daniel and become the basis of Daniel’s own decision-making because one of the major themes in the game is parenting, and how your parenting choices actually impact your children. While Sean is the older brother, he takes over as the de facto parent for Daniel, and therefore the model on which the extraordinary young man will base his life.
I have to applaud the developers for crafting intricate and interesting decision trees that radically change the gameplay. The choices you make do not have an immediately obvious answer as each choice has its benefits and drawbacks, and they arise organically through the events of the story. The characters feel well-rounded, with the NPCs coming across less as tools to progress the story so much as participants in the events. The situations the brothers face are realistically complex, meaning that making what society would deem the moral choice may not be the choice that is best or most loving for Daniel. As a result, Life Is Strange 2 really begs you as Sean to constantly evaluate your priorities, and the means by which you achieve your goals. Your posture towards Daniel determines whether he trusts you enough to accept your choices, or if he goes off on his own frequently, to his and your detriment.
The sequence with the cult bears some discussion because it throws into sharp relief the uglier aspects of a certain kind of religious life in the United States. Daniel becomes a pawn used to aggrandize the leader while Sean and Karen, the boys’ mother, attempt to rescue him. It’s a hard sequence to play through because it represents yet another example of how society has failed the boys. From their mother’s initial abandonment to the injustice of the racism that prompts the altercation in which they lose their father, the boys constantly shift between experiencing unfair or violent treatment at the hands of representatives from society’s institutions to having to rely on individuals to provide help against a system that is failing to care for them.
The boys’ mother, Karen, is a particularly fascinating character. She initially abandons her boys, becoming the first person to betray her duty of care with respect to Sean and Daniel, but she returns later to rescue her youngest son. She will later sacrifice herself in order to protect her sons, and I have to admit that I found it interesting that the narrative we usually see used for fathers or male characters is carried by a female character. That made for a really refreshing shift.
In terms of the technical aspects of gameplay, the Switch port is of the quality we’ve come to accept from Square Enix. There are some heavy load times, and the game is bound by the Switch’s graphical rendering ability. By that, I mean, you should not expect a PlayStation 5-level of visual quality, but you should know that when you choose the Switch version over the PC or next-gen-console version. The game’s pacing can be slow, especially during the early parts of it. Remember, you’re essentially playing kids rendered homeless by gun violence who are trying to make it down the West Coast without nearly any resources. Life Is Strange 2 is not a cheerful title, so if you’re looking for something lighthearted, this is definitely not for you. As a parent, I had to put the game down a few times to take a breather, so fair warning. Life Is Strange 2’s soundtrack fits it beautifully and definitely serves to highlight these difficult themes.
Life Is Strange 2 is an incredibly well-designed story that can become overwhelming due to the heavy themes of violence, bigotry, and poverty. Make no mistake, the game takes you to the U.S.-Mexico border and does not shy away from the emotional baggage associated therewith. Be aware that it does have some pacing issues, and that the Switch port also requires a truly egregious amount of memory space, so if you’ve got a lot saved to your Switch, the game will not play correctly. You should also anticipate loading times that tend to drag. However, the story that Life Is Strange 2 offers is worth all of the quibbles and issues, so if you’re looking for an experience more than a game, give this one a hard look.
- I generally dislike it when a creator adds magical or impossible elements in a story that would otherwise be better served to stay grounded in a more realistic world because it’s hard to do effectively. There’s a balance between not allowing the more natural elements to overtake the supernatural elements and vice versa that can be difficult to strike. Life Is Strange 2 has done a really great job of managing that balance.
- If you get squicked by eye-trauma, you might give this title a pass.
- If you’re looking for a happy ending, even the best ending you can achieve isn’t perfectly happy in Life Is Strange 2, so take care of yourself while playing.