'Life is Strange 2' Chapter 1 Serves up a Storm of Feels

The opening moments of Life is Strange 2's debut episode, "Roads," briefly dip a toe into familiar, angsty high-school waters, then whack players square in the feels. While the political commentary in "Roads" sometimes comes across a bit heavy-handed, the story's emotional heft, sympathetic characters and sprawling sense of possibility will leave players itching to know what happens next.

Be warned: spoilers ahead for the first 30 minutes or so of the roughly three-hour episode.

The sequel to the 2015 hit, Life is Strange 2 leaves behind time-skipping photographer Max Caulfield and her badass bezzie Chloe Price, for another PNW duo: Seattle-based teen Sean Diaz and his kid brother, Daniel. As the story opens, Sean and his best pal Lyla slyly smoke cigarettes on his porch after school, preparing for a house party where Sean's aiming to make a move on his crush. Before meeting up later, Sean must acquire cash and snacks, so you'll have to snoop around the house to find them (Lyla will handle the weed.)

Sean and Lyla on the porch on a Friday afternoon, discussing plans for later that evening. Square Enix

But just as Sean's about to head out for a night of youthful hijinks, Daniel gets in a tiff with the bigoted neighbor next door. The police show up almost instantaneously, and within seconds The World's Worst Policeman murders Sean's dad for no discernible reason. While it's heartening to see the issue of racially motivated police violence addressed in games, the moment plays out on-screen as more of a blatant push to get the story rolling than a convincing treatment of a preventable tragedy or tense situation gone terribly wrong. The game's making the justifiable argument that some victims of police violence don't need to behave in a threatening manner to be perceived as threats, but the scene would have worked better with a bit more meat on its bones. Admittedly, part of the rushed feeling here is due to the mysterious wind storm that sweeps in directly after the gunshot rings out, sending cars tumbling and leaving the trigger-happy officer dead.

Thankfully, the remainder of "Roads" gives its characters a bit more time and space to breathe. We rejoin Sean and Daniel a couple days later, on the run. (Or rather, on the walk; the brothers are on foot alongside a two-lane highway in rural Washington.) As they veer off into a state park in search of a place to spend the night, there's far greater opportunity for exploration than in the previous entries in the Life is Strange universe. As you wander through the woods, you'll also come to understand that Daniel either doesn't realize, or is wholly in denial about, what's happened to his father. Here's where the game's earlier warning that your actions "will impact the world around you and your brother," becomes all the more weighty. Your decisions—whether to coddle Daniel, teaching him which berries are safe to eat, the food you brought in your backpack, whether you shoplift later in the episode—all shape the relationship between Sean and his brother. It remains to be seen how much these choices will influence the outcome of the overall story, but the possibilities seem more expansive than in the first season of Life is Strange.

Sean Diaz and his younger brother Daniel in "Life is Strange 2." Square Enix

While distinctly of a piece with the rest of the Life is Strange universe due to its core gameplay mechanics, jangly emo soundtrack and ubiquitous Endor redwoods, the first installment of Season 2 has a more somber tone overall. Other than a bit of banter between Lyla and Sean in the opening moments, I found myself missing the sarcastic humor of Max's time at Blackwell Academy. (Who could forget gems like "Go f**k your selfie" and "Ape, ape, ape! Who wants to go ape?") Hopefully later episodes will lift the weight of the debut's mournful mood somewhat, as the snappy dialogue was among the first season's greatest strengths.

Even so, Life is Strange fans will find much to speculate about in "Roads" regarding potential links to Season 1, Before the Storm and The Awesome Adventures of Captain Spirit. Sean's story takes place three years after Max and Chloe's, and the brothers' road trip sees them passing by the girls' obliterated town. (Yes, I sacrificed hundreds of innocent souls to save my blue-haired fantasy girlfriend in the original LiS.) Based on my past playthrough, it's not clear if the relevant scenes in "Roads" will change if there's still an actual town to visit. There's also the matter of the mysterious windstorms—do Sean and Daniel have some link to the surreal happenings in Arcadia Bay? We'll have to wait for future episodes of Life is Strange 2 to find out, but "Roads" makes for a promising start.

Life is Strange 2 comes to PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC on Sept. 26.