Rules continues directly from where the first episode left off. After accidentally killing a cop during an emotional outburst that unleashed Daniel’s psychic powers, he and his older brother Sean are on the run. Now that Daniel has discovered his extraordinary powers, he must begin learning to control them. There’s something very X-Men about the direction DONTNOD is taking Life is Strange 2. The increasing focus on having sweet powers that must remain hidden from the world is straight out of the comic book world. It honestly wouldn’t surprise me to hear someone call Daniel a mutant in a future episode.
The episode is aptly named. Now that the boys are officially fugitives, Sean hammers home the importance of living by a set of rules. Rules to live by and survive with. Rules is where we see Sean begin to fill in the hole left by the death of their father. He realizes he must balance being an older brother to Daniel with teaching him the ways of the world. The episode immediately sets its tone by letting you decide whether it’s okay for Daniel to swear. It also sets expectations for future episodes. If the first episode was lacking in subtlety, Rules is a solid improvement.
There were characters in the debut episode that were way over-the-top. Their persona was hyperbolic and their intentions were transparent. The original Life is Strange suffered from the same broad-strokes approach to its characters, with all but the protagonist feeling 2D and predictable. Rules is a bit better with its character-building. It introduces the boy’s estranged grandparents, whom they seek out when Daniel begins to struggle in the wilderness. They have a difficult and awkward relationship since Karen - the boys’ mother - abandoned her entire family. The outcome of their visit isn’t as predictable as I was expecting and the characters end up being more nuanced than they could’ve been.
The relationship of the brothers is easily the game’s biggest strength. The writers seem well aware of this, using the majority of the episode’s screen time to further reinforce their relationship. It continues to be genuine, affecting, and easy to empathize with. They may be in a really bad situation, but they’re still brothers. The sentimentality is clear but never overdone. It never feels like it’s trying to be too cute or too righteous. Instead, Rules impressively balances a realistic relationship with the increasingly unrealistic events surrounding its main characters.
Captain Spirit - the child protagonist of the prelude episode The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit - makes his first appearance in the main series. If you missed it, Captain Spirit was an emotional and charming short story establishing Chris, a young boy with an abusive father who dreams of being a superhero. It’s free and well worth checking out before playing Life is Strange 2. Chris’ integration into Sean and Daniel’s story is fun, albeit brief. He becomes friends with Daniel, who inadvertently convinces him he has the powers he so craves. Although the episode ends on a cliffhanger that leaves the boys saying a quick goodbye, it’s hard to imagine the character won’t show up again further down the line.
As compelling as the journey of Life is Strange 2 has been (so far), it’s hard to ignore the seeming irrelevance of the player’s agency over events. The “illusion of choice” in games is something we've been discussing for years, but it’s still very appropriate. Of course, the narrative is still in its early days and the consequences of your actions will surely feel more deliberate in future episodes, but it feels superfluous at the moment. When the game presents me with a compilation of the “choices” I’d made throughout the episode, it seems there's only a single instance where my decision made an impact on the story. The journey of the Diaz brother is worth experiencing, but it’s hard to ignore the lack of a tangible player agency.
Life is Strange 2 continues to have a very stylish presentation. Its sharp art style continues to shine through. Sean’s diary - which further highlights the mindset and personality of the character - is loaded with fun doodles and quality illustrations. The consistent quality makes me want to peruse it every time it updates. Similarly, the hand-drawn aesthetic that highlights the environment is sharp and charming. The moments of respite granted by Sean’s opportunity’s to soak in and sketch his surroundings are sweet and effective.
Unfortunately, the game's rough edges let down its abundance of style. The lip sync of the characters is distractingly poor at times. It gives the feeling of watching something with an alternative language dubbing. Significant bugs also plague the game. In my three hours with Rules, I had two instances of scenes where some of the character models were completely invisible, leaving Sean seemingly talking to no one. There were also moments where doors would slam silently and audio cues wouldn't pop. It’s frustrating when a major bug interrupts a scene and disrupts its intended weight.
Despite some glaring technical issues, Roads ends on an emotional high note. It feels triumphant and leaves me hopeful. Not just for the Diaz brothers, whom the ending presents with a promising situation, but for the future of Life is Strange 2. Its direction feels significantly less ham-fisted and forcefully controversial. The increasing focus on the supernatural elements of the story is exciting, to say the least. I look forward to following these brothers on their continuing journey.
TechRaptor reviewed Life is Strange 2 Episode 2: Roads on PC via Steam with a copy provided by the publisher.
Rules continues the compelling journey of the Diaz brothers, further expanding on the supernatural elements teased during the first episode's conclusion with less forcefully controversial and predictable writing. Unfortunately, the episode is hindered by some substantial technical issues.(Review Policy)
- Brother's Relationship Continues To Impress
- Ends On A Promising High Note
- Captain Spirit Makes A Fun Debut
- Major Bugs
- Choices Feel Largely Superfluous