Life Is Strange 2 Episode 1 and Episode 2 did a good job setting the stage for a dramatic tale about the bond between two brothers and what happens to them when a supernatural event shakes up their suburban lives. Now I’ve finished Episode 3, and I see we’re moving into a more intense story.
Dontnod Entertainment and Square Enix released Episode 3 on May 9 on the Windows PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One, MacOS, and Linux. I’ve played through all the episodes so far, as well as the teaser story, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. I also interviewed Jean-Luc Cano, lead writer for the game, after my playthrough. These are my impressions.
I think the appeal of this story for me is that you get a real sense of what it’s like to be a caretaker for someone you love.
Editor’s note: This review has story spoilers. We recommend that you play the episode first.
The story so far
Episode 1 introduced us to the emotional story of two young brothers who lose their father and learn that the younger boy, 9-year-old Daniel, has supernatural powers. They flee the police and their Seattle life, surviving on the run in the woods with only each other to depend upon.
Life Is Strange 2 takes place in the same universe as the previous games — Life Is Strange (2015) and Life Is Strange: Before the Storm (2017). It happens about three years after the events of the original game, but it is an entirely separate story starring the Diaz brothers: Sean, 16, and Daniel, nine.
The game asks you which final decision you made at the end of Life Is Strange (2015) so that it can customize some elements in the game. Episode 2 also asks if you have played Captain Spirit, as the decisions you make in that story affect the boys’ tale.
In the first game, the character Max Caulfield discovered she had the ability to rewind time at any moment and re-enact choices that can have a “butterfly effect” on the world, where a small event like a butterfly flapping its wings can have a huge impact. Daniel finds out that he has the power of telekinesis: the ability to move physical objects with his mind.
While Max has to decide how to rewind time, Daniel and Sean have to decide when to use the telekinesis or to refrain from doing so. Since the boys are on the run, the older brother Sean has to spend much of his time forcing Daniel to hide his powers. That’s why the second episode is called Rules. Regarding his powers, Sean tells Daniel, “Never in public. Never talk about it. Run from danger.” They meet a couple of wandering vagabonds, Finn and Cassidy.
The third episode, Wastelands, starts in the middle of a Redwood forest. The boys have joined Finn and Cassidy in Northern California, and they’re all working on a pot farm in the woods. They are still very vulnerable, as they are wanted by the police. Daniel still longs to find their mother, Karen, who abandoned them. Sean wants to take them down to their father’s boyhood home in Puerto Lobos, Mexico.
Meanwhile, they’ve been hired to work for a dealer named Merrill, who has a harsh overseer. They’re hanging out with the hippies Finn and Cassidy, hoping to make enough money to continue their journey south. But Daniel has become harder to control, and he threatens the status of their jobs as Merrill won’t cut them any slack.
Sean is torn because he wants to spend more time with Cassidy, but that leaves Daniel feeling neglected. Daniel begins hanging out with Finn, and he resents the military-style behavior of Merrill and his guard. Just before the group is ready to be paid, Daniel is caught sneaking into Merrill’s office. Merrill refuses to pay anyone and then fires Sean and Daniel.
Merrill’s guard punishes Daniel, and he exposes some of his powers to the group. While everyone agrees to keep it secret, Finn senses an opportunity to use Daniel to go back at night, break into the safe, and steal Merrill’s money. Sean refuses to allow Daniel to participate in the plot, citing the risk if caught. But while Cassidy and Sean flirt and go off to skinny dip in the lake together, Finn and Daniel plot to break into Merrill’s office. After Cassidy and Sean figure out what has happened, they try to head off the break-in.
But Merrill catches Finn and Daniel first, and he threatens to teach them a lesson, preparing to shoot Finn. Daniel looks to Sean, who must decide whether to let Daniel use his powers. I chose to give Daniel permission. But he cannot control the power, and he causes a shockwave that injures everybody and causes a piece of glass to go into Sean’s eye. Out of control or not, Daniel hurts a lot of people in this scene.
I talked to Jean-Luc Cano, leader writer of the story, about this scene. He told me that the setup for the scene will determine who goes to the robbery. But regardless, Sean always goes, and Merrill always catches Daniel and Finn. The decision always comes down to whether Sean lets Daniel use his powers or not. I chose to let Daniel use his power, and 84% of my fellow players did so. And it always turns out in a catastrophic way. In a way, that robs the player of real agency, as it turns about bad no matter what you choose. On the other hand, it’s a dramatic moment and the writers wanted to bring the episode to a crescendo.
What you’ll like
Being a role model is a big responsibility
Daniel has always been impulsive, and Sean has to try to keep him under control. But it won’t work if Sean says one thing and then does another. Daniel will follow the example and go against Sean if he sees hypocrisy. I tried to make decisions that kept the bond between the brothers strong, like offering to help Daniel wash the dishes.
But if I stayed up late to get a haircut and to flirt with Cassidy or Finn, then Daniel would feel neglected and angrier. If I go with Cassidy or Finn to the lake, the same happens. If I go into Cassidy’s tent (only about half the players did this), the rift grows.
“We wanted to show that if you have to take care of someone, you have to sacrifice your own wants to do something for him,” Cano said.
Sean seems like he’s in a no-win situation. But he’s Daniel’s only guardian, and it tells you what it’s like to be a single guardian with a lot of responsibility for a younger sibling. If you can relate to this, then LIfe is Strange 2 is succeeding or you, as it is about relatable characters, realistic settings, and choices that you have to make.
You decide Sean’s sexuality
With Cassidy and Finn in the picture, you get to decide how Sean will relate to them. You can lead toward gay and flirt with Finn or be straight and flirt with Cassidy. You can also decide just to go to sleep and not sexualize Sean at all.
“We wanted to give the player the choice to do whatever they want,” Cano said. “We shape the relationships and the stuff with Cassidy and Finn to answer the question how you want it. You’re free to do what you like.”
This doesn’t matter at all in how the story comes out in Episode 3. It is a part of the story where the storytellers give you real agency to produce scenes in the game that are unique to you. You can go skinnydipping in the lake with Cassidy. You can take that a step further and join her in her tent. You’ll see some nudity (bare breasts), but the scenes aren’t graphic at all.
With Finn, you can exchange a kiss, but it doesn’t go as far. But the choice is there. It leads to different scenes and conversations, but it has no major impact on the story. It’s a great example of allowing the player to make a real choice.
Sean can choose himself or Daniel
As noted above, this sets up a good story about a caregiver. You can choose to explore your sexuality as Sean, but this takes up time that you do not spend with Daniel. And it’s clear that some moments here are crucial. You never know if you choose too much in favor of Sean’s interests that this will wind up hurting your relationship with Daniel in some way.
You can, for instance, choose to go to sleep with Daniel. And he will wake up less grumpy. Is that consequential? Probably not. But a lot of stressful times come where a strong relationship between Sean and Michael will matter.
Other characters can cause a lot of change for the brothers
I feel like I played Sean perfectly so far. As a brother, I have been taking care of Daniel. But Daniel can be led astray anyway. In this case, Finn enters the picture and wins Daniel’s favor. And he uses that relationship to get Daniel to agree to use his powers to break into Merrill’s safe and steal his money.
Finn sells this pitch as painless, quick, and something that will make all of their dreams come true. It really makes you, as Sean, want to smack Finn pretty hard. But it is a good acknowledgment that friends often hold more sway over kids than parents or siblings do.
What you won’t like
Slow moments again
Life Is Strange still has its dull moments, earnings its criticism of being a “walking simulator.” Just as with Episode 2, this episode has you doing some really boring things. Like exploring a campsite. Cleaning up the campsite. Washing dishes. And training Daniel how to control his powers, over at a lake, in the same way, that we did before.
It’s like this boring part is inserted into the game to lower the drama and make you wish that something would happen. You can pass the time, as Sean, by drawing pictures of the landscape. But you still have to listen to the same conversation. Only at the end of the episode does the tension hit the high point. I just wish I had some more enjoyable interactivity in the middle of the intentionally dull parts.
Daniel is really annoying
Daniel is as annoying as a nine-year-old can be. He agrees to rules. He breaks them. Then he doesn’t think about the consequences. Sean has to be patient with Daniel, but he already knows that Daniel has a history of not behaving. Sean can see the basic problems at hand. If they are exposed, the police will get them and maybe pin a charge of murder on them. To escape, they have to get out of the country. To get out of the country, they need more money. To get money, they have to hang on to their jobs.
Sean can see that making waves — or just being a kid — will get them fired at the pot farm. But Daniel isn’t so logical. He goofs off. He causes trouble because he’s bored. He follows Finn because he’s more freewheeling than Sean. I can see how Daniel is a realistic character for his age. But if I were Sean, I would be so pissed. I would be tempted to leave Daniel. I would go on an endless tirade.
But as a caregiver, I cannot. I’m stuck with this kid who is so annoying. I have to be understanding, and that’s really tough. It makes me want to pick up the computer and throw it at the wall. I expressed this frustration to Cano.
“Well, [Daniel] had his dad killed in front of him. His brother Sean lied to him in the beginning. He’s had a tough life. Things have been complicated for him,” Cano said. “I get your point.”
I’m glad that the writers made the story dramatic. But at the same time, they took away the power of my choices. I was proud that I was a good big brother for Daniel, but I was not rewarded for that. No matter what happens, I, playing as Sean, wind up with a piece of glass in my eye at the end of this episode. That’s not fair.
Life isn’t fair. In fact, Life is Strange. Finn even says, “Life is like a river. You have to go with the flow.” But seriously, the fact that 84% of layers made the same critical choice of letting Daniel use his powers is a sign that Dontnod set this story up with a foregone conclusion. I loved the dramatic moment, but I felt a little betrayed because my choice did not matter in the end. Daniel would use his power even if I told him not to, or Finn would wind up getting shot or even killed. It was a no-win situation.
I’m glad that we’re getting into a much more dramatic story than we saw in Episode 2. But now we have no more illusion that Sean and Daniel are going to get out of this with their relationship intact. Sean has a piece of glass in his eye, and Daniel is responsible for that. Daniel is also the one who chose to go with Finn to rob Merrill. And the consequences of this will be disastrous for the brothers. But is that irreparable?
“We totally know where we’re going in episodes four and five,” Cano said. “We have a lot of surprises to show you. The story of the brothers–we have a few more key moments to reveal.”
I am anxious about what the next episodes will bring. Episode 4 comes on August 22, and Episode 5 arrives on December 3. I’m hopeful. I can see the story getting better, but my level of frustration is high as well.
And now I’m sure the Dontnod writers know what it’s like to be a writer for Game of Thrones. Angry fans are in the waiting, no matter what. But I don’t want to be one of those fans who doesn’t realize that they should be happy, not angry, that they care so much about what happens in the story.
Disclosure: The publisher provided us with a code to play the game on the PC
Register for GamesBeat's upcoming event: Driving Game Growth & Into the Metaverse