We finally got a release date for Episode 2 of Life is Strange 2, which will be available on January 24. We also got an unexpected treat in the form of a live-action trailer which stars Gonzalo Martin, the voice of Sean Diaz. Unfortunately, the trailer sort of makes you wonder why the game wasn’t a movie in the first place.
The trailer expertly recreates the emotional ending of the first episode where Daniel Diaz loses control of his telepathic powers when he discovers that his father is dead via the evening news and that his brother has been lying to him about it throughout their road trip. Both in the game and in live action it’s a great story beat.
But here’s my problem with Life is Strange 2 as opposed to its predecessor: it’s mechanically dull. The storyline is superb, the acting is just as good, the subject matter is timely in a way video games rarely get to be and the technical advancements make for a prettier experience, but it’s missing anything that really makes an adventure game stand out.
Since the fall of Telltale there has been a lot of discussion about what can keep the genre going, and the simplest answer is that games need a unique mechanic in order to stand out. Ideally, you want something that serves the story and the play, such as the Aiden segments of Beyond: Two Souls or the rewind ability in the first Life is Strange. Compare Fullbright’s Tacoma to their previous game Gone Home and you’ll see exactly what I mean about mechanical evolution. Transitioning from picking up pieces of paper to an interactive computer memory system isn’t an act of genius, but it does reduce the feeling of stagnation.
By contrast, Life is Strange 2 has… nothing. Sean can sketch things, but so far his sketches have no effect on the gameplay or story whatsoever. There are some incredible play moments in the decision making such as when you realize how your interactions with your dad determine your ability to feed yourself later in the game and that agonizing moment when you must throw your phone full of family videos away to progress. However, it’s not linked to any unique play trait.
Before Life is Strange 2 came out there was the connected short The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, and that game had a hell of a mechanic. Chris uses his imagination to turn mundane interactions into superhuman feats against a backdrop of his father’s alcoholism. It was incredibly effective even if it didn’t exactly have the legs for a full-length game.
So far, Life is Strange 2 has more in common with Telltale or the Before the Storm spin-off of the first Life is Strange. It’s a moving narrative experience with basic exploration, and that is all. There’s no interaction with Daniel’s powers directly. There’s not a dialogue tree skill evolution like in The Council or Call of Cthulhu. There’s just nothing but a collectible sidequest. Before the Storm got away with that because Chloe Price and Rachel Amber were established characters ready for an expanded universe approach, but Life is Strange 2 is supposed to be the next incarnation of a bigger idea.
I didn’t say much of this in my initial review of Episode 1 because I wanted to give the game a chance to get somewhere first. Captain Spirit, which is due to crossover soon, implies there is more happening than the first release let on. That said, this isn’t a Final Fantasy title where you introduce core mechanics in after several hours of play. Adventure games are supposed to give you a tool right out of the gate, and when they don’t it makes me think they don’t have a tool.
So far, Life is Strange 2 has left a very important part of what makes a game a game on the table. Seeing this new trailer reveals just how much of it hinges on the cinematic rather than the interactive. I’m hoping that when Episode 2 drops we’ll see a wider look at the universe this all takes place in. I think it’s neat that Dontnod has decided to craft an interconnected set of stories where young people have superpowers activated by traumatic events, but if players aren’t allowed to use those powers in some way they might as well just rewatch the first season of Heroes. I’m extremely excited for the series to continue, but it’s got to get its game on.
Check out the trailer below.
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