Walking down a forest trail to an illegal camp site by a river, Sean distracts Daniel from his hunger and aching feet by telling him they're just like Sam and Frodo embarking on exciting new adventures. It works, for a while.
Sean's heartbreak over his dad's death feels powerful and real, rather than melodramatic and stale, as it easily could have been. Dontnod, the developer of the Life is Strange series, has proven once again it has a deft hand in establishing visceral, realistic, relatable worlds, and building tension from there. In the first 15 minutes of Life is Strange 2, Sean, Daniel and their dad are a happy, banter-filled family unit. Sean sneaks cigarettes with Lyla on the back porch and they plan for the party, discussing the snacks, drugs and booze they'll need to bring. Their problems are those of everyday, middle-class teenagers in the US, and it's fascinating how quickly Dontnod can bring older players back to that time, making things like party supplies feel just as important as saving the world or defeating a final boss.
Part of this is done through dialogue. As proven in the first season of Life is Strange, Dontnod's characters are often witty and sassy, and developers have smoothly transferred that proven teenage-edged banter onto the Diaz family. Sean teases his brother; Daniel tries to get his brother's attention; their dad provides good-natured wisdom and a steady hand. Lyla is outgoing and direct, pushing her best friend to let loose and have fun.
Dontnod spends the introduction allowing these characters to settle into themselves, offering plenty of conversation opportunities while Sean searches his house for supplies. The sun is setting; the party is about to begin. Sean has a heart-to-heart with his dad in the garage. Daniel is working on a secret project in his room. Sean and Lyla finalize their plans over Skype -- and then, in an instant, everything changes.
Daniel gets into a scuffle with the neighborhood bully in the front yard and Sean rushes to intervene. There's fake blood involved -- it's nearly Halloween -- and a cop pulls up just as the bully hits the ground hard, landing on a sharp rock. The cop, an anxious white man, draws his gun on the Diaz boys. Their dad rushes out of the house. Gunshots ring out. Instantly, the neighborhood is ravaged by intense wind and swirling anti-gravity fields.
When he comes to, Sean scans the scene, taking in his dead dad and the remaining bodies among the wreckage. He scoops up Daniel, grabs the backpack he's filled with party snacks, and runs.
Everything that happens after this moment is made powerful because of these first 15 minutes. Dontnod takes the time to ground its characters before setting them loose and allowing players to make their own decisions. This character-driven theme is carried throughout the episode, in classic Dontnod fashion -- much of the story is told through the power of sitting.