The Diaz brothers are finally on the Nintendo Switch, meaning you can play (almost) the entire Life is Strange collection on the go. I got into Life is Strange fairly late compared to most people, but playing the first game in 2020 got me hooked. I played Before the Storm and then didn’t have enough time to play Life is Strange 2 before True Colors was released. I finally got my chance with this review, and the game doesn’t disappoint. The platform, however… We’ll get to that.
Dontnod is known for its deeply emotional stories, and Life is Strange 2 doubles down on this reputation, as the events of the game are set into motion after a police officer shoots the boys’ father outside his home. The story follows the Diaz brothers, Sean and Daniel, as they trek down the west coast of America towards the Mexican border, fleeing from law enforcement. The game is set in 2016, just as Donald Trump is about to win the Presidential election, and the brothers’ Mexican-American identity plays a crucial role in the story, as well as in the interactions you have with other characters.
This is a Life is Strange game, so on top of dealing with interpersonal and sociopolitical issues, there’s also a supernatural element. Daniel has a mysterious telekinetic power that Sean must help him understand and control throughout the course of their journey. You play as Sean, and your decisions not only have consequences for you, but for your nine-year-old brother.
I feel the same about Life is Strange 2’s story as I do about all of the other games in the franchise – I can’t fault it. The overarching plot and its themes of brotherhood, family, and injustice grip me right from the start, and the character work is impeccable. Daniel’s character, in particular, impresses me. A lot of games in the past do a poor job of writing young children characters that are more than just cookie cutters of one another, but Dontnod did a fantastic job in making Daniel into his own person. He’s creative, smart, and annoying at times, but that’s what made me engage my inner Big Sibling Mode and influence how I play as Sean.
Aside from the one-shot prequel to Life is Strange 2, The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, this is the first time we get to play as a male protagonist and as someone who doesn’t identify as male, I’m glad I can still relate to Sean. We have vastly different life experiences, but the way he puts on a brave face for his brother reminds me of my relationship with my sister. Plus, he’s not afraid to get emotional. So many other male characters from videogame history would bottle up the trauma of witnessing their father’s murder, but Sean recognises that he’s allowed to have feelings and share them with others. It’s another refreshing part of this game as a whole.
As you can probably tell, I have a lot of praise to give this game, but sadly I don’t think the Switch port does it justice. The game runs pretty smoothly when you dock the Switch, and the painterly aesthetic of the visuals masks any issues with the visual quality. But my main reason for getting games on the Switch as opposed to other platforms is the portability, and Life is Strange 2 deserves to tell its story on the big screen, not a small screen. Even with the in-game text and subtitles set to the largest setting, I have trouble navigating the inventory menu and map when playing in handheld mode. The speakers on the Switch also don’t do the game’s beautiful sound design and soundtrack justice, making everything sound tinny and far away.
Other downsides to this port include the phenomenally long load times between scenes, both docked and undocked, and some glitches that affect crucial accessibility features. During one extended gameplay sequence in the first episode, my subtitles disappeared entirely, meaning I had trouble following the action. For some players, this would mean missing a section of the plot entirely. I also think it’s a real shame that this version of Life is Strange 2 doesn’t come with the Captain Spirit one-shot. It doesn’t have a huge bearing on the plot, but there are plenty of callbacks to it in the main game that don’t make sense if you haven’t played through Chris’ story.
Life is Strange 2 faced a lot of criticism after its initial launch for being ‘too political’ by including overt instances of racist microaggressions and violence. But just as Brody says to Sean, everything is political. This story takes a snapshot of a very specific time in American political history, but the racism Sean and Daniel experience hasn’t disappeared. I think Dontnod chose a great time to release this Switch port as a whole new group of gamers get to experience a story that’s still just as politically relevant today as it was in 2018. But don’t take it from me, I encourage you to check out other reviews from people of colour as no matter how good a game is, as a white person, I’ll never know what it’s like to experience racism.
Life is Strange 2 is a brilliantly written game with endearing, relatable characters and a fantastic story that will make you laugh, cry, and shout at your screen. I recommend the game wholeheartedly, but I would think twice before deciding on the Switch port.
An incredible game that holds up just as well as its 2018 release, but is held back by the Switch’s handheld performance.