The main thing I’ve learned from having a sibling is that you can be polar opposites who bicker endlessly, but when push comes to shove there is nothing you wouldn’t do to keep them happy, safe, and protected. This sentiment is the heart and soul of Life is Strange 2 and continues to ground the strong narrative through the second chapter of the Diaz brothers’ journey away from their home in Seattle and toward a new one in Puerto Lobos.
The second chapter of Life Is Strange 2 begins in the snow-laden Willamette National Forest in Oregon. It is several days after Daniel learned the tragic truth of why they had to flee Seattle, and the ensuing outburst that revealed his telekinetic powers. The brothers are now faced with the reality of managing not only their survival while on the run, but also the nuances of how to handle Daniel’s abilities. Sean sets down ground rules for keeping the powers a secret while working with his younger brother to hone them. This supernatural element adds a new dimension to gameplay in that certain situations and objects can be manipulated by Daniel with your say-so.
More interesting, however, is the difficult balance you must strike as Sean by either encouraging or discouraging Daniel’s use of these powers. Using them may be helpful in certain situations, but there is the danger of being exposed or hurting someone in the process. The tribulations of decision-making in the second episode are far more complex due to this supernatural factor. The options to scare or prank your little brother are almost gone, but in their place you’ll have the more difficult choice between keeping him safe and repressing his abilities or allowing him to use his powers–which is sometimes the only way to save others–but potentially put him at risk in the process.
In playing the second chapter through multiple times and making different choices, it became clear that there are no options to have Sean behave in a nasty manner because Sean is not a nasty person. While you can make choices for the brothers, they aren’t puppets. If you choose to have Sean yell at a loved one, he will likely apologize; you can ask Daniel to do certain things but he won’t necessarily obey. This feature can diminish the feeling of ownership over the characters, but the way it bolsters the fundamentals of their characterization and relationships increases your fondness for them and investment in their journey. Choosing to act more dismissively or short-tempered doesn’t stop Sean from wanting the best for Daniel, nor does being unhelpful or sacrilegious around conservative family members stop them from loving you or wanting to help you. The decision-making in Life Is Strange 2 isn’t as simple as being kind or being callous, and this makes the episode far more interesting and nuanced.
Daniel remains as impressionable as he was in the first episode. Swearing in front of him will enable him to do the same, telling him you don’t believe in heaven will change his beliefs, and being unkind or unsupportive will make him disinclined to listen to you. This puts a huge weight on the way you choose to conduct yourself and how you treat others in Daniel’s presence. The supporting characters in this chapter are less colourful than those in the last episode, and a couple of grungy train-hopping standouts are underutilized. While Sean and Daniel’s grandparents are well-written, they aren’t as unique or interesting as Episode 1 characters like Brody the travelling blogger or Lyla, Sean’s bubbly best friend. As a result they don’t contribute to the character development of the brothers in the same meaningful way.
Much of the episode is spent in relative comfort, which is a change of pace for the brothers on the run, although the beginning retreads some story beats from the first chapter and as a result they feel less impactful this time around. There are a couple of instances that feel like cheap emotional shots, one of which is related to an Episode 1 choice that ripples out in a dramatic way, yet doesn’t feel entirely earned. Even in these cases, however, the stellar performances of Roman George as Daniel and particularly Gonzalo Martin as Sean keep every moment engaging and sympathetic–from the mundanities of playing dice games to coping with heart-wrenching losses.
While this episode is bookended by tense, gasp-inducing moments, the plot has a slower pace than the previous episode. It spends time filling in the blanks of the Diaz family tree and answers important logistical questions as to where the brothers can find a safe haven. This chapter also incorporates the story of Captain Spirit, or Chris, who we first met in the standalone game The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Chris’ character is used as a clever device to display different sides of Sean and Daniel. He enables Daniel to flaunt his childlike creativity, while Sean can earn his trust and serve as a confidant for his troubled home life. The impressive writing from Episode 1 persists, making every conversation feel natural and relatable. This ensures that even the new characters that aren’t as unique as those introduced previously still have layers and avoid cliches.
This care and attention to detail extends to the environments, which feel genuine and lived-in. The particulars of places and objects also subtly clue you in to the personalities, priorities, and relationships of those they belong to; like kitschy plaques that signpost the interior of rooms in a house, a recycling bin full of beer cans, and a guitar covered in stickers. Underpinning all of this are acoustic folk tracks that punctuate the plot, echoing the feeling of teenage ruminations. The grounded, everyday vibe of the soundtrack helps drive home that Sean and Daniel are still normal teens and makes it easier to understand their mindset.
One minor issue is the meta-knowledge that the Diaz brothers are two episodes into a five-episode journey, so you have an acute awareness that no matter how positively things are going, you’re never too far from it all unraveling. However, even if you can see where things are going, there’s a joy in taking each new step of the adventure and in managing the careful balance between being a guardian and a friend to Daniel. The larger consequences of how you’ve chosen to guide Daniel are still to come, but the cracks are starting to show and the pressure is heightening. That said, no matter how you leave Daniel and Sean at the end of this chapter, there is the palpable sense of hope, of a new way forward, and of the unconditional love between two brothers.