Just as the undisputed king of episodic gaming collapses, Dontnod and Square Enix are back with a brand new season of the fan-favorite Life is Strange series. This round, the time-bending Max Caulfield is gone in favor of potentially telekinetic teen Sean Diaz.
It’s the same universe as before, but the characters we know and love aren’t the focus here. Presumably, they’re off doing something else during the run-up to the now-infamous 2016 US Presidential election. But just as we slide comfortably into Sean’s mundane teenage nonsense, something life-changing happens, and he takes off with his little brother Daniel. Now that they’re on the road, we’re bound to visit loads of new places – explaining the $ 20 price increase from the original’s $ 19.99 price tag.
At IGN, our sister site, reviewer Calum Marsh liked the first episode despite some rather clunky moments. What the game lacks in subtlety and top-tier production values, it makes up for with a killer aesthetic, strong characterization, and an incredible charm. And with any luck, the “bigger, more complex story” that Marsh sees evidence of will play out in the next four episodes. For now, it’s sitting at a 7.7 out of 10.
In a wider view, the general critical consensus seems to be very similar. With 23 reviews counted on Metacritic, Life is Strange 2 is sitting at an 82 out of 100. A 3.5/5 rating from GamesRadar+ serves as a solid example of the lower end of the scores. Reviewer Andy Hartup praises the mood and soundtrack but is concerned about the pacing and the execution of some of the choice-driven gameplay.
On the other end, Jordan Oloman at Trusted Reviews was much more positive with a perfect score of 5/5. The characters and story obviously do the heavy lifting with this series, but he also goes out of his way to praise the visual overhaul this installment has received. Compared with the first game or the prequel, it’s immediately apparent this is a sizable step.
Back in 2015, the original five episodes were built with Unreal Engine 3. And while the somewhat abstract art style certainly helped gloss over the older tech, the metaphorical seams are visible. Deck Nine took over the development of the prequel Before the Storm and moved over to the Unity engine. We’d say it there were modest improvements, but they pale in comparison to the new game running on Unreal Engine 4.
We’ve spent more than a few hours poking around in the standalone Captain Spirit spin-off and this season’s first episode, and the two standout advancements are with the depth of field and the lighting. When folks talk about the mood of this game, this is a major portion of what they’re picking up on.
Sure, the music and writing are undeniably important. However, the strategic use of a lovely bokeh effect, the way that light filters through the trees, and the dramatic shadows all come together to make this new experience all the better.
[Image credit: Dontnod/Square Enix]