Best Bits: A Night in the Forest - Life is Strange 2

With the first episode now available to play completely free, we revisit one of our favorite sections of Life is Strange 2 and dig into what exactly makes it feel so special.
By Duncan Heaney

In Best Bits, we look at some of our favorite moments from Square Enix games, and why we think they stand out. To be clear, we’re not declaring them to be the pinnacle of the game, merely one of many moments that we love. So don’t get upset with us if you disagree, okay?

While Life is Strange put developer DONTNOD on the map as masters of the interactive narrative, it was the follow-up, Life Is Strange 2 that really cemented their status as the best in the biz.

From the very first episode, Life is Strange 2 hits gamers with a story that’s in equal turns imaginative, unique and emotional - and where your decisions and actions really do make a difference.

With that episode now available to play for free on PS4, Xbox One and Steam, we thought it would be the perfect time to take a look at one of our favorite sequences: a quiet night in the forest.

What happens in the forest?

16-year old Sean Diaz and his 9-year old brother Daniel have fled their home in Seattle following a tragedy that tore their lives apart. On the run and hunted by the police, the pair stop in the woods for some much-needed respite.

After the intensity of the previous scenes, the brothers finally get a chance to relax and take stock of the situation. They can scavenge for food, go fishing, skim stones, race or just sit and chat - it’s an area that’s positively overflowing with things to see and do.

As for what specifically happens… well that largely depends on you. The choices you make in Life is Strange 2 have a big impact on where the story goes, how characters react and more. This one scene has an impressive number of permutations - the events you experience may not be the same as someone else’s.

For example, on my first playthrough, Sean was very much the responsible big brother. He looked out for his brother at every turn, stopped him eating berries, kept him on task. As the brothers chilled out enjoying a moment of calm, they chatted and Daniel was able to have a good night’s sleep - even though he went to bed pretty hungry.

On a different playthrough though, Sean was a bit more relaxed with his brother. He was more playful and teased him in the way that very specific siblings do. While more fun was had, I accidentally went too far and scared Daniel, resulting in an upset and restless little brother.

What makes this section so good, and such a highlight of the series, is that both versions were enjoyable, each with very different buy equally satisfying payoffs. And that was just two ways of many the scene can go.

But why? What exactly makes this part of the game work so well?

It’s stunningly beautiful

The forest is one of the most visually spectacular areas in Life is Strange 2 - one look at the screenshots will tell you that. The game’s vivid colors and almost painterly art-style combine to create an environment that looks great, and just feels good to inhabit.

In short, it’s pretty impressive - emphasis on pretty. That beauty didn’t come easy though - it was a lot of work for the team at DONTNOD.

According to the game’s Director Michel Koch: “It was one of the very first parts we worked on, as we started production of Life is Strange 2.

“The scenery was a challenge because we’ve never worked on that type of environment before - We went hiking in Washington and took lots of photos, which we used as reference when defining how it would look and feel.

“But while we were building the scene, we were also using it to do things like work out the mechanics of the game. The whole thing was quite challenging!”

It’s a pivotal moment for Sean Diaz

By the time we head into the trees, we’ve spent a good amount of time as Sean Diaz. We’ve seen what kind of person he was, but the sequence in the words lets us really define the type of person he’ll become.

Will he grow up fast into a stern and protective guardian to his brother or will he act like the teenager his is? Will he become overprotective and deprive Daniel of valuable experience, or give Daniel more freedom, despite the risks that come with that?

It all depends on you and what’s brilliant is that there’s no big decisions or binary choices here. You’ll shape Sean through a series of small choices - some obvious, but others far more subtle. Because the character is specifically yours, it’s all too easy to identify with him - and makes the emotional beats of the story hit so much harder.

Your decisions affect more than just Sean

But it’s not just Sean who’s shaped by this chapter - Daniel is too. One of the coolest things about the series as a whole is that Daniel learns from Sean’s actions. This system is invisible to the player, but almost every decision Sean makes, no matter how tiny, has an impact on Daniel’s behavior.

For example, if he sees Sean steal something, he may do the same later. If Sean swears, Daniel can start cussin’ like a sailor.

That’s why this section is so pivotal to the episode - and the series as a whole.

As Koch says: “it’s a really important scene. It’s the first major moment after the incident in Seattle, and we wanted to teach the player that they are now responsible for Daniel and will have to make decisions that affect both him and Sean.

“That ties into the theme of responsibility in Life is Strange 2 - when you take care of a child, your behavior influences theirs.”

In other words, the time in the woods sets out game’s stall and very subtly says to the player: your decisions may have more impact than you think.

All your choices are the right choice… and also the wrong ones

There’s a very clear creative intent behind the choices presented in the Life is Strange series - players shouldn’t have to worry about making a bad or ‘incorrect’ decision. Koch, explains:

‘The Life is Strange games are about life and real issues. We try not to portray anything as black or white, but instead as shades of grey.

‘There is no pre-defined right way to live - a person’s life is defined by the decisions they make. Some decisions may come to bite you, but you have to live with it. That’s what we try to emphasis in our games - it’s not our job to decide what’s right or wrong.”

That philosophy is on full display in this one section of the game. As Sean and Daniel explore the woods, there are plenty of decisions to make - some obvious and others more subtle, and they all affect how the scene plays out.

What’s key is that none of them feel like you made a ‘bad’ choice - they all feel like natural - and satisfying -consequences of the choices you made.

As the game’s writer Jean-Luc Cano says: “There are no good or bad decisions in life. There are just decisions.”

Sean and Daniel Diaz’s trip into the forest works as a perfect snapshot of Life is Strange 2. Decisions have weight, with meaningful consequences, it reinforces the themes of the game, and it has real emotion and heart - and it captures everything that makes this story such a wonderful experience.

But don’t take our word for it - the entire first episode is now available to play for free, so you can experience these amazing moments first hand.

So give it a go, and then visit us on social media to tell us how right we were about everything: