If you're reading this, chances are high you know my rants. I like to rant. Usually, my rants are not really classic "rants", but more like somewhat ranty written essays, with references and all. I think ranting responsibly is important, so I usually only write rants on topics I'm very familiar with, and on things I can actually provide these references for my claims.
However, I'm also hypocritical on occasion, so I will make an exception to that rule, and rant about something I'm not that familiar with: video games
! I play video games. So far, Steam has recorded 1831 hours of playtime in total, and I've spent quite a fair bit of time in non-Steam games as well. And, well, the weeks I spent on my Switch, 100%ing way too many titles. That doesn't make me part of the "pro gamerzz elite", but I've seen my share of games, both popular AAA titles, and Indie games that never made a single cent. I'm also occasionally dipping my toes into the game development side of things and built a few tech-demos and mechanics that are entirely useless outside an actual game. Although this provides me with some insights, I have no clue about writing stories and designing games, so this should be fun.Spoiler alert
: The following text contains spoilers for Life is Strange, Life is Strange: Before the Storm, and Life is Strange 2. If you consider playing these games yourself, please bookmark this post, play the games, and come back when you're done. You have been warned. Please stow away your tray tables, put your seat into an upright position, and open the blinds in preparation for takeoff. Please note that turbulences can occur at all times, so keep your seatbelts fastened when seated. Cabin crew, please take your seats
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Life is Strange 2 is a bad game.
There, I've said it. And now, I've put myself into a hellish crossfire, because people on the internet tend to think in black-and-white's, and most people on the internet who criticizes LiS2 are doing so because of the political messages the game tries to convey, so it's easy for others to yell down those critics. I don't care, and I certainly don't act like that makes LiS2 somehow "invulnerable". At the end of the day, it's just another game trying to make money.
Although I have spent most of my in-game time in Looter Shooters (*cough* Borderlands 2 *cough*), I like games with well-written stories and good storytelling. To me, the combination of consuming a movie-like story and the interactive elements of a video game makes a lot of sense, and I get a lot of pleasure out of that. I'm also enjoying interactive-storytelling games like everything Telltale made, event
, Grim Fandango
, The Final Station
, and What Remains of Edith Finch
to name a few of my favorites. And, well, Life is Strange. I 100%ed LiS and LiS:BtS, and I completed LiS2 to the best I can up to this point.
Simulating Influence and Relatability
Generally speaking, those games are all the same: you walk around and occasionally click on things to make the story progress. Those titles have no fancy mechanics, action-filled shooting sequences, or high skill caps to work towards. Gameplay-wise, they are actually quite boring
, but that's not the point of these games. These games tell a story, and if done well, you're not merely observing
a story like you would when watching a movie, but instead, you are totally immersed into the story and feel like you are
the character you're controlling. That's what makes these titles great.
There are a couple of relatively simple writing-tricks games can use to make the player more immersed in their games. In most of these games, the protagonists deal with topics like depression, bad love stories, loss of friends, and other story pieces most of us will have experienced in some way or another. This may sound obvious when written in such a neutral text, but this technique is surprisingly effective if used inside a well-built story-driven game. The second important piece is to give play offers the illusion of being in control. In most games, you cannot alter the story besides replacing a line of dialog or changing a few seconds of a cutscene. Although these games tell you that your "choices matter", and make a massive deal out some in-game choices, in the end, you will end up in the same storyline, with maybe a few minor branches differences, and perhaps a different ending-sequence. That's fine, I think it's unreasonable to expect Detroit: Become Human
-like story branching, and most games and most players are just okay with that. The key is not to offer real choice, but rather keep the illusion of choice alive by merging the choice-branches back together with excellent writing skills. If you have played any of the games I mentioned earlier, you know what I am talking about.
I'm going to ignore all other titles except Life is Strange here. I'm also ignoring The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit
, which technically is a spin-off playing in the same universe, which can be seen as a prequel to LiS2, but it has no significant story connection and only establishes a character that appears once in LiS2.
Life is Strange: You play as a teenager, who has an odd treat (they can rewind time). The story happens in the protagonist's college years, and the main story happens around the typical teenager issue-space. The protagonist meets their wacky friend, and they both have issues with their parents, especially the protagonist's best friend step-dad, who is a cliche step-dad-jerk, and also the security guard at the story's college. The main antagonist is established by killing the protagonists best friend and kidnapping the protagonist. The protagonist eventually escapes using their unique power, and the protagonist finally realizes their time-modifications cause the city to be wiped out by a weather event eventually. In the end, the protagonist has the choice of either "restoring" the previous timeline and never doing any change, which means the protagonists BFF would be dead, or not reverting time, which means the city will get wiped out. End sequence. Credits.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm: Plays in the same city, same university, and generally same timeline, except that BtS plays a few years earlier. You play as the character who played the BFF-role in LiS. The protagonist has an odd treat (they can convincingly yell at people to change their minds). The protagonist is abusing drugs. They meet their wacky BFF, who happens to have family issues. The BFF discovers their dad is cheating and engages rage-mode. The BFF eventually learns they are adopted, and now wants to find their biological mother. The protagonist and BFF do stupid things together, which involves stealing money from a drug dealer the protagonist is already in debt at. The BFFs biological mother is also a drug addict and is actually buying stuff from the same dealer as the protagonist. It's also the same person as BFF thought their dad was "cheating" with. The protagonist decides to use their contacts to arrange a meeting with the dealer to meet BFFs bio mom, but a fight starts and BFF gets stabbed and ends up in the hospital. Because the fight starts before any conversation, BFF still does not know anything about the identity, and actually believes their bio mom is dead. The protagonist finds out that BFFs mom is held hostage to motivate everyone to pay their debts. In the end, the protagonist is confronted with decisions on whether to save the world or not, and whether to tell BFF the truth or leave them with the suspicion that their mother is dead. End sequence. Credits.
Obviously, both stories are more complicated, but this is a good abstract summary. Both stories contain lots of relatable things: the players either are still in school or have been in school; everyone is a bit odd; everyone has one or more weird friends; everyone has family issues at some point; everyone does stupid things. For almost every person out there, the characters and the stories in those titles contain something
they know, something they felt, something they can identify with. And even if those story pieces are mainly college-story tropes, they help the player with feeling a bit more... familiar with everything.
The number of relevant characters in both titles is low, and you generally stay with the same groups of people. There is quite a bit of backstory to learn for each NPC, either by using the computers, phones, or diaries, but also via environmental storytelling like carefully crafted university cafeteria sets, or generally well-written dialogues. It's always immediately clear if an NPC is essential, or if they're just an extra.
Even side-characters are exciting and feel important to the player. For example, in LiS, one character deals with mobbing in school and family issues, and in the course of the game, you have to chance to keep searching them and engaging with them, at which point they'll talk about their issues, and you eventually become friends. If you don't engage or don't support them, you'll eventually witness their suicide in a quite tragic set. This character has no relevance to the main storyline, but the fact that you have control over this piece of side story feels important and helps immensely with building a really immersive world. In LiS:BtS, similar things happen, for example in a scene where you decide whether to steal some money from the university or not. If you don't steal money, you might not notice anything odd, but if you stole the money, a later handicapped character had trouble accessing the university building, because they couldn't afford wheelchair ramps, as you literally stole their money. Again, not relevant to the main story, but it feels
Even though both stories and their characters were cheesy, and occasionally somewhat awkward, I ended up really enjoying both titles, and the story and worldbuilding were good enough for me to ignore technical glitches and a clear lack of polish in some areas. I felt immersed and engaged enough that these things did not matter.
LiS2: The Story
Let me start by making one thing very clear: LiS2 is not
a continuation of LiS. There is no overlap in characters, location, or time. The story still takes place in the United States, but we're used to that, given most game studios are located there. It's fine if they want to treat every title as an individual universe, but if that's the case, releasing LiS:BtS as a prequel to LiS in the same universe maybe wasn't the best idea. Either way, I'm going to skip any points about continuation expectations and the very open holes that LiS/LiS:BtS players were expecting to be filled by LiS2, and instead, I'll treat LiS2 as a new, completely separate title.
LiS2 is very different, and it makes that clear from the very beginning. You play as a 16 years old male with Mexican heritage, Sean, who has a younger brother. The game starts with a full hour of character building, where you get to know some members of the family, as well the protagonists love interests, who he happens to video call.
The game suddenly shifts into a scene where the neighbor's son, who appears to be a few years older than the protagonist, is in a fight with the protagonists younger brother, Daniel, over spilled "fake blood" on the neighbor's shirt. The game puts you into the first decision where you can pick between "Question Daniel [little brother]" or "Confront Brett [neighbor]". Your choice does not matter, because in both cases, Older Brother ends up hitting Neighbor, who previously said, "Go back to your country", establishing some kind of racial confrontation. In the resulting fight, Neighbor trips and hits his head on a rock, rendering unconscious. A police officer who happens to just drive by gets out of his car, pulls out his gun, and threatens the Brothers and commanded them to get on the ground. The families father enters the scene and starts arguing with the officer. The result is both brothers and the father yelling, and the officer shoots the dad once. Dad falls to the ground, and Little Brother yells when suddenly a shockwave throws the officer through the air. Fade to black. A few establishing cinematics show immense damage, and a dead police officer, as well as the dead father. Little Brother appears to be alive but rendered unconscious. When two more police cars arrive, Big Brother decides to flee the scene, together with Little Brother. For some unknown reason, Big Brother decides they have to flee to Mexico. After some time passes, much later in the story, they end up in a Motel, where Little Brother watches a news show on TV and learns about the death of his father. The resulting meltdown triggers another shockwave-thing, and the game establishes Little Brother's telekinesis ability, and by extend his responsibility for the dead police officer.
This scene alone made me somewhat unhappy with the game. I see where they were going with this, and I see they want to highlight racial issues in society. I actually applaud them for that, but they picked the wrong carrier. There are a lot of stereotypes about Mexican-heritage people living in the USA, and instead of properly addressing them, the game actually appears to be enforcing them. The neighbor's use of a racially motivated insult is not acceptable in any way and would have been a good point to address these issues in a responsible manner. Instead, Big Brother immediately physically attacks the Neighbor by hitting him with the fist, knocking him to the ground. Verbal violence is violence, but you cannot answer with violence to violence, especially not in a situation where the Big Brother is protecting
Little Brother, while he still is in the typical Big Brother role model situation.
The father, who joined the scene after the police officer arrived, ran towards the police officer. Running at someone is a threatening move, regardless of a person's background. Even then, the police officer did only point his gun towards the father and asked him to stop. At that point, all three family members started to shout at each other and at the police officer, and at some point, a shot was fired. I am acknowledging that police shootings are a huge issue in the US, and I also acknowledge that there is a very big racial component involved. But if you, as a game writer, want to address these issues, you absolutely cannot start a scene by using the same stereotypes that are already in place, and you absolutely cannot portrait "the Mexican folks" as the violent group. I'm sorry, but this is a massive failure, and at this point, we're only a little bit over an hour into the first episode.
Instead of calling an ambulance for the shot father, the unconscious Little Brother, as well as the neighbor and police officer, the Big Brother decides it's best to flee towards Mexico. The whole scene feels incredibly off. The game previously established a stable family environment, and Big Brother only took 3 seconds to process that his father just died and that he has to leave. This is very unrealistic unless you assume the Big Brother previously had experience with very violent situations, which then would further reinforce stereotypes. It's also severely irresponsible, given the father could have been still alive, and the Little Brother could have been severely hurt from the explosion
Even though I experienced violent situations myself, I did not believe this scene at all. Instead, it immediately distanced me from the character I was going to play for the next 5 episodes.
After an unspecified amount of walking, the brothers end up at a gas station. The game introduces a money mechanic and gets you into buying or stealing some food items from the store for future travel. I'll skip this for now, as I'll come back to that later. You also get to meet a "blogger", who apparently drives around the US in his car and is... blogging. When you want to leave, you get recognized by the store's owner, who is posed as what I can only describe as the typical American redneck, who saw the brother's photos in the news. The owner knocks Big Brother out and kidnaps him, Little Brother manages to escape. In an overly dramatic scene, Little Brother frees Big Brother. Conveniently, the blogger is still at the station but is about to leave, and he offers a ride to the brothers. They end up at the Motel mentioned earlier, and the blogger paid for it.
Also, Little Brother stole a puppy from the gas station.
The walk continues after the Motel. The Brothers "train" Small Brothers abilities by randomly lifting up items. They sleep in the woods for a night, then they discover a cabin, where they sleep again. The dog gets killed by a cougar, which is convenient for the writers as even I had no idea where they wanted to go with this. Yes, this was my first thought when learning the dog is dead, I'm not even joking. Instead of .. walking directly to Mexico (note: they started in Washington State, which is as north as you'll get in the US), Big Brother decided to step by grandparent's house first. So they... walk there.
Grandparents are nice. The game spends more than an hour establishing a relationship with the grandparent's neighbors and their son, but there is no relevance to the story, so I'll not bother. At a Christmas market, the Brothers get to say hi to a group of hippies who are on their way to California to make some easy cash. Eventually, an accident happens at grandparent's house, the police arrives, and the grandparents help the brothers to escape. They end up jumping on a freight train towards California, where they'll meet the hippies again in the next episode.
There, I just explained 3 hours and 10 minutes of gameplay to you.
It's worth noting that the grandparents knew what happened at the Brother's home, and they also knew they were wanted to the police. They believed their story, and yet they thought it would best for the brothers to flee towards Mexico. The grandparents also noticed that Little Brother was sick, but after cooking some tea, they were fine with him leaving again. This scene is now the second time where the brothers actively hurt and endangered humans while fleeing from the police.
As everyone does after arriving in California, the two brothers end up in working as helpers on a cannabis farm. The farm workers sleep in tents in the woods, and the farm boss is a huge asshole, with guns and all. But apparently, they make enough money, so that's worth it. The game surprises with actual gameplay: a minigame in which you get to cut cannabis plants! The minigame got boring after the 3rd plant, and luckily, I only had 27 more to go.
Big Brother falls in love with a hot hippie, they had sex in a tent, and Little Brother feels neglected.
On payday, Little Brother was caught sneaking into the bosses office, resulting in the group not getting paid. Boss gets angry at the Little Brother, and he accidentally
used his shockwave powers to defend himself. The group now knows about Little Brothers powers, and they decide it would be an amazing idea to steal all the bosses money. They ask Big Brother for his opinion, and regardless of the choice you make, they go ahead with the plan anyway. Unsurprisingly, plans did not work out, the Boss got angry, and Little Brother accidentally wiped out the entire place with his power. The episode ends with everyone, including the Brothers, unconscious on the floor.
This was episode 3 out of 5. My writing style reflects my mood at the time I finished the episode. I no longer felt like I was playing a poorly written telltale game, I felt like I was in some kind of elaborate joke. The brothers are still engaging in behaviors that actively physically hurt people, and they are still fleeing from the police. At this point, they'd both actually be in serious legal trouble, as while the original accident would not be debatable in a court of law, all the other shit they did certainly is. Congratulations, game, you made criminals out of innocent people.
The game gets praised for apparently "addressing racial stereotypes", yet they actively use, abuse, and reinforce every horrible stereotype in the books. There are a million stories they could have written, but instead, they went with the old "hippies to California" tape. Not only that, but they also had to paint the picture of a cannabis farm lead by a violent male with a gun, doing shady deals and abusing their personnel. Actual cannabis cultivators are still fighting hard to have their profession, and their products legalized, and this is not at all who these people represent. Congratulations, game, you just reinforced the preconception that everything cannabis-related is illegal and shady.
At this point, I honestly had a hard time taking this game seriously. I felt a bit like back then when I watched a "feminist" video of someone talking about Hitman, claiming that Hitman incentivizes the player for killing and abusing female NPCs, using that as an example for how video games cultivate violence against women. Except for, well, Hitman actually punishes the player for hurting the women shown in the clips, or any civilians, for that matter... These people are fighting the right fight, but with the wrong weapons. And that's making me sad because this kind of stuff actively hurts the people who want to do the right thing.
For the first time in my Life is Strange history, I did not actively look forward to the next episode.
Big Brother wakes up in a hospital several months later. Apparently, he has been in a coma, and he also is permanently blinded in his left eye, because he caught some glass shards. Big Brother got an idea on where Little Brother might be, based on previous conversations and an entry in his diary. Big Brother gets interviewed by an FBI officer, but instead of telling her where Little Brother was so he finally receives some help, Big Brother decides the best idea is to insult the officer. Big Brother is apparently under arrest, indicated by the "FBI officer" stationed in front of the room's door. He's also talking about being sent to a Juvenile Detention Centre when he is released from the hospital the next day.
Because we've learned that that's always a good idea, Big Brother decides to ... escape from the hospital. The game offers three methods here: you can either knock out your nurse, you can knock out the FBI officer, or you can sneak through the window. At this point, the list of charges against the Big Brother was already long enough, so I decided to take the "escape through the window route". In a sequence of cutscenes that make no sense whatsoever, Big Brother manages to escape and steals a car. He drives off towards Nevada because that's where his brother is at. A few cinematic establishing shots later, making absolutely clear that Nevada is nothing but desert, Big Brother stops in the middle of nowhere to take a nap.
All of a sudden, two rednecks knock at the window and force Big Brother to get out of the car. They "ask" him do say a couple of disgraceful things in Spanish (stuff like "I'm a dirty thief"), and to "dance for them". The game clearly uses this encounter to enforce the idea that every stranger in the US is a nazi. I refused to let Big Brother say those things or to dance, and as a result, Big Brother got beat up. In fact, every choice you made ends up in him getting beat up. Great. Big Brother proceeds to drive off in a hurry after that. Eventually, he runs out of gas, and... proceeds to walk. Because that's what you do in Nevada - you walk. Luckily, a friendly trucker arrived, and picked him up and drove him to the city he suspected his brother to be in.
I'm having a hard time describing what happens next, so I'll just quote Wikipedia
There, he finds that Little Brother has been taken in by the cult Universal Uprising Church, led by the charismatic Reverend Mother Lisbeth. Lisbeth has dubbed Little Brother's powers a divine gift, and with them sell her church far and wide. Little Brother reunites with Big Brother, but Lisbeth is reluctant to let him go, and the latter is kicked out of the church, only to be saved by Bio Mother, who'd received a letter from a friend from the cannabis farm detailing Little Brother and Big Brother's predicament. Big Brother reconciles with his mother, and the two stay at a motel while discussing how to get Little Brother back (by force, if necessary).
Finally, a showdown occurs inside the Church where after Big Brother was brutally beaten by Lisbeth's altar boy, Little Brother saves his brother and decides to go with him - all while the church burns down. Big Brother, Little Brother, [...] and Bio-Mom all leave Haven Point for good. Little Brother and Big Brother then continue onwards to Arizona to reach the Mexico–United States border.
Don't ask me, I also don't know.
Again, there would have been a million possibilities to write stories about what Little Brother did in all that time. But the game had
to go with a cult keeping Little Brother captive? Once again, they had to go with any kind of autonomy, and they just continue to use the damsel in distress-model. It's getting to a point where this feels like lazy story writing. The whole cult scene has lots of giant plot holes, but whatever.
Let's talk about something else. There is a scene where Big Brother and the friend are in the cults office, looking through some files. A cult member walks towards the office, and Bio-Mom offers to help by "distracting" them. You have no choice but to agree, and when you do, you suddenly hear screams outside, "buying you some time". When you leave the building... ... a house is on fire. Bio-Mom literally burned down a house to distract the cult members. What. The. Fork.
So, instead of using the second last episode to tell some actual story, or to reintroduce some characters we got to know earlier, they used the whole episode to introduce a new set of throwaway NPCs and to have the main characters still behaving like the very thing they claim not to be.
Happily Ever After
Okay, to be fair, the last episode is not out yet, and will not be out before December 3rd. Initially, I planned on waiting with building my opinion until after that, but I see no reason for that anymore. Episode 4 destroyed the last positive thoughts I had about this game, and no matter what they do in the remaining 3 or 4 hours of gameplay, to me, there is no excuse for episodes 1 to 4.
The game starts off with a narrative that wants to tell a story of how a misunderstanding mixed with racial discrimination can lead to very tricky situations. And instead of sticking with this theme, they actively have the two main protagonists and everyone supporting them repeatedly, willingly, and wittingly hurt and/or threaten other people. The very small amount of empathy I had left burned down in the house Bio-Mom decided to burn down to cover up their son's trespassing and theft.
These kinds of things would already be very hard to justify in a regular
game, but if you want to tell a narrative of racial bias, discrimination, and social issues, these things are inexcusable. You're adding fuel to the fire you wanted to put out. Why.
Enough writing about the story. Even though I have left out many many points, there is no point in me going even further, so let's look at the other aspects of this game.
The Lack of Character and Choice
In the beginning, I talked about the two things that story-driven games have
to get right in order to create an immersive experience: Good characters, and the illusion of choice. Life is Strange 2 fails hard, in both aspects.
All characters feel like throwaway-extras. The game almost never provides the player with any backstory besides the stuff they have to force-feed in conversations for it to make any sense. We know practically nothing about Big Brother, and we know absolutely nothing about Little Brother. The character we have the most backstory on is, surprisingly, Bio-Mom, who got mentioned in multiple letters and conflicting conversations, like in conversations with the grandparents. But even in her case, the amount of backstory we have received so far would have been told in a single letter in some random room in Life is Strange.
All characters feel shallow. This feeling is made worse by the fact that most of them don't survive the end of an episode, both figuratively, and occasionally literally. So even if the game provided a chance, what's the point of even familiarizing yourself with a character who will vanish soon, anyway? All the information is provided pre-chewed in conversations, yo12u don't need to use your brain. Cop is evil. Mexico is good. Cannabis boss is evil. Cult leader is only doing it for the money. Bio-Mom wants to help. That's it.
Who am I?
LiS2 tried to do something different. Instead of letting the player control the superhero, they introduce a superhero guardian role in the form of the superhero's big brother and put the player in control over that character. In theory, this leads to lots of interesting situations, as you cannot directly influence the hero's actions, but you still have to protect them .. somehow.
However, LiS2 falls flat on their nose. They try to establish very early that your little brother has a mind of his own and does not always listen to you. That's great because it puts you into the dilemma I outlined. However, they don't follow this principle when it actually matters. Every time Little Brother
needs to make a decision, for example on whether to intervene when Big Brother gets threatened with a gun, the game puts you into a forced decision-mode, and there, Little Brother always does what you decide. So, basically, you are in full control either way.
Unfortunately, the frequency shift between "he has a mind of his own" and "I am in control" breaks any immersion. As a player, you cannot put you into the mindset of either character, because you frequently have to switch between "thinking for" both of them. This, paired with the really shallow characters and no character development whatsoever, had me constantly disconnected with the character I was controlling.
Treating Player Choices Like a Pile of Poo
Life is Strange 2 is a story-based game that highlights player choice. Your actions and decisions will have consequences and impact the world around you and your brother. Choose wisely.
(From the intro screen)
Nobody expects a fully dynamic branching storyline like in titles like Detroit: Become Human. All we want is the illusion
that our choices matter. LiS2 does not provide that. Instead, the game takes our decisions, puts them into a plastic bag, and throws them into the nearest trashcan. I would not have punched the neighbor. I would have stayed at home, instead of running away. I would not have raided the bosses office. And the game didn't even attempt to hide the fact that they don't care about my choices, they just went ahead with what was written already.
But even for non-mainline-relevant story items, the game generally does not care about user choices. One example is the dog I mentioned earlier. In the gas station scene, the game establishes that we need to buy food to survive, and it establishes that we have very little money. It offers you the choice between stealing and buying items, and it also allows you to pick the items you want. For example, you can choose between some pasta or a more expensive chocolate bar. So you get to make rational decisions here.
The game also shows you a little "free" puppy to adopt, and your little brother asks you if he can adopt the pup. The game forces you to make a decision, so I tried to be somehow rational. I knew little brother was in a bad mood, and a puppy certainly would improve the mood. However, we were very short on money, and there was no chance we could afford things like dog food, and I also doubt we could care for the dog, given we were running away from the police all the time. So I said no, we can't adopt the dog, and spent a lot of money on the little brothers favorite chocolate bar instead, hoping to make him happy that way.
Just a few minutes later, however, when we ended up in the blogger's car... the dog was suddenly there. As it turns out, little brother took
the dog anyway, regardless of what I said. Great, I just spent a shitload of money on a chocolate bar, and now I have a dog to deal with anyway. Thanks, game.
In the end, it did not really matter, as the dog got killed in the next meaningful scene anyway, and the money never was used for anything useful. However, these things happen all the time while playing LiS2, and you don't have the feeling you can control anything at all. And that is even worse
than watching a movie: at least the movie does not pretend you have influence.
Given how great previous LiS titles handled this, LiS2's "choices" are simply disappointing.
I am willing to forgive a game a lot of things if it can at least provide me with an interesting/engaging story. Unfortunately, LiS2 did not manage to do so, so I have to mention these things as well.
Minigames and Mechanics
Previous LiS titles had a fair share of interactivity. You had to solve environmental puzzles, you had to search and collect items, ... you had something to do. LiS2 has a serious shortage of any interactive elements, and the game feels more like cutscenes you can walkthrough.
They try to make this up by... minigames. The one persistent mechanic is drawing a picture to capture a memory. It's a bit like taking a photo in LiS, but way more... tedious. Instead of grabbing your camera and snapping a picture, you have to first "observe" the environment, then point your mouse towards the paper, click, and randomly move your mouse to "draw". A picture is drawn in multiple stages, so you have to repeat the observe/draw cycle multiple times. This feels like a chore for completionists, rather than something fun and interesting to do.
The second type of interactivity is situational minigames. I mentioned one earlier: the cannabis plant cutting one. There, you have to move the mouse in a specific way to cut the plants correctly, but without cutting yourself. You also have to clean your scissors by doing a different set of movement. These minigames... serve no purpose. Instead, they actually feel rather tedious, and for some, like the "point your pencil on my pencil" eye training exercise in the hospital, I didn't even understand the controls, as the description was really poor.
Overall, these minigames honestly felt like they were put in the game to fill another 10 to 15 minutes playtime per episode, and not to carry any meaning.
The Lack of Technical Polish
I played all LiS2 episodes very close to the release time, but I've done so as well with previous titles. Usually, "just wait a couple of weeks and play the game when it has received some patches" would be a fair point, but for episodic story-driven games, I don't think that's valid. While I had the occasional minor glitch in LiS and LiS:BtS, I never ran into serious issues. LiS2, however, feels a bit like a wreck.
When we were spending the first night in the woods, there was a campfire place, and the prompt there said I need to collect wood and make a fire. So I went ahead, collected wood, and made a fire. After all, it was a reasonable thing to do, especially given we found bear poop earlier. Unfortunately, a few interactions later, Little Brother asked me to... make a fire, so we can make food. The thing was... I already made a fire, so I couldn't make another one, as the prompt on the fireplace was already gone. I literally soft locked the game there, and had to reset to an earlier savegame, which then had me re-play 40 minutes worth of "content". In the Christmas market scene, I managed to talk to the NPC in the wrong order, and when I was finished talking to everyone, the neighbors family who was supposed to drive me back home were stuck in a T-pose. Luckily, I was able to glitch me inside their bodies and trigger the interaction from there. But I feel like these kinds of state-machine issues should not happen. Ever. Especially in a game that's pretty linear anyway.
Audio design was occasionally a mess, too. One time, I turned on a kitchen faucet, and then the next mainline story piece got triggered. Unfortunately, the faucet never stopped, so I could enjoy the noise of flowing water for 45 minutes or so until a map change happened.
Occasionally, I was able to see ugly seams in textures, observe foliage clip into static objects, observe clothing items magically vanishing into people's bodies, and move my camera inside my own head to observe how my eyeballs look from the other side. All these things are minor, but it's really surprising these issues happen in a released title on Windows 10 with a boring Full HD monitor.
In The End...
I'm going to stop now. I will play Episode 5 in December, and I'm curious what kind of ending the LiS folks have planned for us. Unfortunately, I have very little hopes that Episode 5 can make a difference in how I feel about Life is Strange 2. To me, it falls short on every single aspect, and in some instances, mistakes even get amplified by what the game claims to be. It's quite sad, really.
Sorry, Life is Strange 2. I really wanted to like you.Ladies and Gentlemen, we have reached The End. Please remain seated with your seatbelts closed until we have reached our final parking position and the seatbelt signs have been turned off. Thank you for flying schubAir today.
Random thoughts, articles and projects by Dennis Schubert.schub.io