Recently, Dontnod put the finishing touches on their initially hyped sequel of the “Life is Strange” interactive video game. After watching their only rivals at Telltale Games fall, this game was Dontnod’s chance to firmly establish themselves as the undisputed titans of the interactive story-telling industry. So, how did it go?
Absolutely abysmal, unfortunately. There are not many games that disappoint quite as much as this heavily-awaited video game.
Such strong words demand an explanation, so let’s start off by nitpicking at what the game managed to not mess up with:
1. Your choices (kind of) actually do matter
One key criticism of Telltale Games that plagued them towards the end of their time in the limelight was that their games only offered an artificial, fake feeling of significance to the game’s critical choices; whatever the player did, oftentimes, the end result was the same, with only some insignificant differences off to the side to show for it. “Life is Strange 2” sort of offers actual weight to a player’s decisions. As Sean, the main character and the one the player controls, attempts to protect and raise Daniel while travelling to Mexico on foot, the ways the player opts to actually raise Daniel can change the plot up in some pretty significant ways. Even minor decisions made in this regard will change the way Daniel acts, talks, and treats his power as the season progresses. While this is nice, and would probably have saved this game from being a complete failure, it ends up all crashing down at the last decision made in the game, and doubtlessly the most important one. Without providing spoilers, ultimately, no matter how your relationship and general interactions with Daniel went, the game essentially ends off the exact same way, which is a huge spit in the face of the player and somewhat ruins this otherwise good trait of the game itself.
2. The video game itself draws from a good zeitgeist inspiration and does a good job touching base with it in the modern day
The story is, in a nutshell, portraying the struggles of being a minority family in the US. This is further put into place when Sean and Daniel’s unarmed father is wrongfully killed by a police officer right at the beginning of the game. This is also touched base on throughout the game, as the main focus of the game is the journey the two brothers embark upon attempting to cross the border into Mexico.
As the title and introduction suggested, this game was an absolute mess. Let’s have a look at some reasons why:
1. The time between release dates was far, far too long
One defining criticism about Dontnod’s old rivals at Telltale Games was that their video games had lengthy delay in between each episode release. At least TTG could make the excuse that they were developing multiple games at a time, and had to give equal attention to each game. Even if that’s a poor excuse, it at least was a reason for there being months in between each game’s individual episode. As a point of reference, Dontnod was not working on any other game aside from “Life is Strange 2,” not as the head developers or even assisting another company in developing another game. So why, then, did Episode one release in September 2018, and the last episode of five get released in early December 2019? That’s an average of three months in between each episode! This one problem here amplified many of the other issues the game had, as well as made it more difficult to actually enjoy the positive attributes about it. It’s difficult to craft a story with good, legitimate meaning, when, three months later, the player has to take time reminding themselves of what’s going on, and who the characters of significance are, rather than actually divulge themselves in the experience in front of them.
As if this wasn’t bad enough, in the article I wrote following Telltale Games’ demise, I actually praised Dontnod for not being the type of company to do this sort of thing. This was right as the game released, too. I guess that didn’t age too well, did it?
2. The plot moved incredibly slowly
This point was not helped by problem #1, as it made trying to get back on track with the story a lot more boring and tedious than it should have been. In each episode, the structure is ominously similar; spend a lot of time walking in a straight line, engaging in pointless dialogue, and then about halfway through the episode, we actually reach something resembling an action point. This hindered the game’s immersive qualities by a lot and made actually paying attention to the game into a trying task.
3. There are too many ‘important’ characters, and the game does nothing with almost all of them
Lyla, Stephen and Claire, Captain Spirit, Captain Spirit’s dad, the bigot at the gas station, Brendan, the handful of workers on the marijuana farm, the two people running the farm, Karen and the group living in the same trailer park as Karen who apparently has to be a focal point for about half of the last episode. Some of these characters, such as Lyla and Captain Spirit, had genuine potential for being more important than just being mentioned about in a few episodes and, in the case of the former, never seen again after the first 2 minutes of the first episode. Captain Spirit even got his own side game, which was somehow able to be released in between the second and third episodes, which implied he would have more of a role than some silly two minute cameo in the third episode before being utterly discarded. In short, the side cast characters who get more screen time bare no actual significance to the plot, with the exception of Karen, and the side characters who were unceremoniously discarded had more potential to receive significantly more attention than they did. In general, the cast is very sloppily utilized, and it causes the player to just stop caring about anyone other than Daniel and Sean, which is a travesty.
4. Sean is mostly an uninteresting caricature, lacking in important emotional value
Not every game has to become a dating simulator, but Sean, the main character, has a dull, uninteresting personality that’s difficult to really care about. While normally, this can be rectified by giving the player more power to actually create a decent character out of an emotionless silhouette (just look at how Fire Emblem handles their main characters, namely Three Houses), this element doesn’t exist here. Simply put, Dontnod dropped the ball on Sean as a whole, and beyond the occasionally cliched “I have to protect Daniel!” moments, Sean is just a lifeless, walking meat sack.
Overall grade: F
Horrible game, complete waste of time and money, and not worth playing at all. Put your wallets away, readers, and go invest in something else.