- The stylized art still holds up
- Incredible acting highlights Sean and Daniel's brotherly bond
- The call out to the first Life is Strange is sweet
- Subtle character development remains Dontnod's prime specialty
- Terrible writing ruins the game's social commentary
- The set pieces do not flow with the lowkey but tense atmosphere the developers built
- Player agency is severely reduced
- The entirety of the jail scene
- Given the way the game tries to comment on immigration, the baseline plot seems almost insensitive
There are still things to like about Wolves, but this finale to Life is Strange 2 could have been a lot more. The game is still worth playing, but your mileage may vary with how it ends.
SCORING THE LANDING
Major spoilers ahead.
During Wolves, I began to question whether Life is Strange 2 had a handle on its social commentary like I thought it did. When the first episode released last year, the concept of the Diaz brothers running for the border to Mexico after things go wrong in their hometown seemed interesting. It read as the kind of wild idea a desperate teenager would think of. Now that the brothers are finally at the border, the way Wolves brings their story into a commentary on immigration feels canned and rushed. The sudden drop in writing quality calls the whole premise into question. While Dontnod delivers their promised ending, I wonder if Mexico should have remained a pie in the sky idea that should have changed several episodes ago.
The beginning has a lot of promise. After the events of the last episode, Faith, Sean and Daniel are now in Away, a small commune not far from the border. Taking players through a day in the life, the game excels at quickly sketching new characters and relationships that may not be around long, but give Away a lifelike and memorable appearance. The residents are friendly and welcome Daniel’s telekinetic powers to help with daily chores. There’s even an extended reference to the original Life is Strange that subtly underscores the peace and tranquility the boys are missing in their lives.
However, Mexico is the goal. Knowing that makes these early scenes bittersweet by design, but they also mark the moment where this episode stops feeling like Life is Strange 2, and starts feeling like something else. As Sean and Daniel arrive at the border wall, they stop to have a conversation about the steel monstrosity in front of them that’s so awkward and philosophical, I thought they were going to turn to the camera and start speaking to me directly. A ten year old like Daniel might have questions, but in a game filled with strong character dialogue, the bluntness of the moment erased whatever emotion I was meant to feel.
Things get even rougher. The boys get captured, Daniel’s taken away again, and Sean’s locked up between a duo of right wing vigilantes and an undocumented couple that’ve tried to cross the border numerous times. Everyone starts arguing like a bad Facebook fight. At this point, it feels like Dontnod has given up on any kind of character nuance. Full stereotypes are on display as the vigilantes repeatedly dehumanize Sean and the couple, while the couple argues that they’re simply doing what’s best for their unborn baby. It’s a medieval morality play. As someone who championed this game’s social commentary, the scene is hard to watch and even harder to defend. I was glad for the scene minutes later when Daniel storms in and takes out the cops so Sean can go free.
But that moment in itself has some issues, too. The whole point of Life is Strange 2 is to teach Daniel how to control his powers and behave in society. If the player spent all of their time trying to teach Daniel morality, then what’s he doing destroying a police station? There’s a memorable scene in the first episode, Roads, where Sean has to get food and the player’s options are to buy it, steal it, or beg from someone else’s plate. Though the end result is largely the same (he’s accused of stealing by racist shop owners), the way through that situation feels organic. Now that it’s the last episode and Sean’s done teaching, it’s like he doesn’t matter anymore. He’s seated with the player and told to buckle up as Daniel and other random people make the decisions for most of the episode.
This whole section takes place right before the end of the game. Players get to make a final choice and receive their ending, but the point of all of it is missing. The jail sequence could be cut entirely and the story would not change. It’s as if the writers thought they needed a big set piece to finish the story, like in the original Life is Strange. But without mind-bending time travel to play around with, the idea doesn’t work nearly as well. It’s a messy path to the end. One that could’ve been avoided if they stuck to the tone of the story.
I’m not sure what happened here. There are still moments in Wolves that I like, but I’m conflicted. The good and the bad in this episode can be shoved into two different corners. On the one side exists some of my favorite video game characters in recent memory, and beautiful, poignant sequences that show that not every game has to be about saving the world or surviving a global crisis. Personal, small-scale stories are important, too. But on the other side are segments that make Life is Strange 2 seem like any other video game, where the symbolism is dead-on obvious, and the big bombastic set piece feels like a development constraint rather than an effective way to conclude the story. Maybe I feel some responsibility for Sean and Daniel, but the illusion is broken and no amount of calming, jangly guitar music can change that. It’s a bittersweet ending in more ways than one.
Platform: PS4 | Publisher: Square Enix| Developer: Dontnod Entertainment
Release Date: 12/3/19 | Rating: M for Mature
This review was conducted on a PS4 Pro using a digital download I bought on the Playstation Network as part of the season pass for Life is Strange 2. It’s also available on Xbox One and PC. If you’d like to see reviews of the previous episodes of Life is Strange 2, including The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit, you can do so here, here, here, here, and finally here. If you’d like to contact me, you can leave a comment below or email me at dcichocki(at)tiltingwindmillstudios.com. I also have a Twitter!