Life is Strange: Before the Storm Review (Awake)

reviews, video games

Prequels can be a tricky thing; unlike a sequel, these stories are always trying to fill in information that existed prior to the original work. While audiences might often wonder what happened to a character prior to the original story, what they find out may remove some of the original mystery, or just be something disappointing–as it doesn’t match up to the imagined story the audience had created prior to the prequel existing. I can say one thing right now, though: Life is Strange: Before the Storm is an example of a prequel story done right.

So much mystery surrounded the story of Life is Strange, and Chloe in particular. Our titular character Max had been gone so long that whatever happened in her best friend Chloe’s life during their break was only told through the words of other characters, and small hints here and there–but it was never the main story. There was a disappearance to be solved–people to save. There simply wasn’t time to delve into the backstories of other characters. That’s what Before the Storm can, and does, do with Chloe Price and Rachel Amber.

Set three years before Life is Strange, Before the Storm tells the story of how Chloe struggles with her father’s death, her mother moving on with her soon-to-be step-father David, the loss of her best friend Max to Seattle, and most importantly, the formation of her relationship with Rachel Amber. As you may recall, Rachel is missing in Life is Strange, and then dead–we never truly got a chance to know her. Through this story, we get to meet her alive and well, and begin to see why she had such a huge impact on Chloe’s life.

Before I get into the first chapter (named Awake), let me say a quick word about game mechanics. Before the Storm plays mostly in the same way that Life is Strange did; the basic controls are the same, along with dialogue choices. However, unlike Max, Chloe can’t rewind time–so now, unless you want to reload a save, you have to live with your choices and the consequences of those choices. You won’t know how those choices may affect things until a good deal of time later, and one choice builds on the next. I really enjoyed this aspect, it and made me truly focus on what decisions I was making. Like Max and her photography, Chloe has her own special way of leaving her mark, too–this time with graffiti. There are places within the chapters where you can have Chloe mark up a wall or an object, which goes into her journal as well.

My favorite new mechanic are the ‘backtalk challenges’– something that is completely suited to Chloe’s personality. These challenges let you use arguments and insults to get what you want, whether it be to get into a rock show, or to get David to shut up. There are meters to show how well you are doing versus how well your opponent is doing, and you truly have to pay attention to win.  The character you’re in battle with gives verbal hints on what dialogue choice will win you a point towards winning the challenge in general. It’s a fun mechanic, and I genuinely love it.

The journal ‘menu’ exists in this game as it did in Life is Strange, including blurbs on the characters you meet (and Chloe’s feelings on them), text messages, and most importantly, letters to Max. These are letters that Chloe never intends to send, but give insight throughout the chapter into Chloe’s feelings regarding what is happening around her, and the profound emotions churning within her. Max may be gone, but she certainly isn’t forgotten.

Being a spoiler-free review, I don’t want to give too much away about the plot of the story. However, it is pleasant to just play a story about a young woman trying to find herself; there isn’t some grand mystery to solve (currently)–it’s just Chloe trying to survive life. The loss of her father, the loss of her best friend, both of these weigh on her like shrouds, making it difficult to interact with anyone in a way that isn’t negative. Friends, family, it doesn’t matter. The signs of her pain show through in defensiveness and anger, her mouth ready to cut down anyone who pokes at the chinks in her armor.

Rachel Amber, of course, is holding her own pain as well, but it manifests more internally. Where Chloe lashes out, Rachel internalizes, more willing to brush things off and push forward than face the demons within herself–until they all coming spilling out in fiery glory. Rachel herself is an interesting enigma, and one I’m enjoying getting to know. She is the popular girl we have all heard about, and it’s clear why Chloe is drawn to her–and while Rachel is drawn to Chloe, as well. The scenes with them on the train were my favorite; the creators allowed the characters to breathe and learn about each other in a slower way, all accompanied by the amazing music that Life is Strange is known for (bringing on the group Daughter for this project was one of the best things Deck Nine could have done).

The minor characters have been well fleshed out, too; we see both new and familiar faces, and get to experience some fun little side quests if you so choose to follow them (for example, you can play D&D before hitting school). Again, each choice you make (or don’t make) may have consequences down the line. I’ve played through twice, and I was able to walk down an entirely different story path at the school that I didn’t the first time by making a few key choice changes earlier in the game–which means the game has replayability, even in the first chapter.

Without giving away anything, the last ten minutes of this chapter left me genuinely excited for the next chapter, and certainly with some big questions–especially about Rachel. There are certain things that occur that could be metaphorical, literal, or both. Given that this is Life is Strange, I’m banking that it’s a little bit of each. But again, with no way to wind back the clock, and no Max to save Chloe–we’re on our own. And I’m genuinely excited about that.

 

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