Chloe and Max's story has now come full-circle with the release of this long-awaited prequel to the original Life is Strange.
In the original Life is Strange, you played as Max, a teenager who arrives back in her hometown after having left for a while with her parents. She left behind her best friend (Chloe) and when they reunite, a metaphorical and literal whirlwind of emotion occurs as the pair deal with the mess that Chloe has become mixed up in. Before the Storm starts its story while Max was away and it chronicles the blossoming relationship between Chloe and her new friend Rachel. Chloe is dealing with the death of her father and the betrayal of her best friend leaving her at her most vulnerable. Meanwhile, her relationship with Rachel starts when Rachel defends her and helps her escape from a bully at a club that Chloe forced her way into. The pair strengthens their bond throughout the course of the three episodes as you witness Rachel tell her story about why there's so much more going on with her than just stellar grades and acting chops.
Whereas the first Life is Strange episodes used a tornado to symbolize the emotions of the main characters and the town of Arcadia Bay itself, Before the Storm accomplishes the same with a raging wildfire. The fire is started when Rachel discovers that her dad is cheating on her mom and she angrily kicks over a flaming trash fire. The story is full of tense moments like this that are handled very well due to the fact that episodes 1 to 3 of Before the Storm take place before the original Life is Strange and the bonus episode for Before the Storm takes place even before that. For example, the fact that you're slowly going backwards in time means that you're often shown characters that seem to act irrationally only to later find out what brought them to that state. Watching the moment occur when a switch flipped in their head that caused a domino effect of events that you've already seen is quite humbling and on more than one occasion, these events caused me to pause and think about what exactly happens in the present that can affect the future.
When playing Before the Storm, I was disappointed that it doesn't contain the time rewind ability that's featured in the original. I found that ability to be quite fun and it added some gameplay to an experience that's mostly a walking sim with the odd decision and object interaction. On the other hand, Before the Storm introduces a new gameplay element that has you choosing words in a conversation in order to get a favourable response. If you pick the wrong words, it makes the next part of the game harder and you might have to find an alternate way to do something. Picking the right ones is challenging because you have to really listen to what the person is saying in order to counteract them successfully. Other than this new gameplay element, there are plenty of one-off gameplay styles that can be quite entertaining such as an interactive school play or indulging in some Dungeons and Dragons action with the nerds.
The graphics of Before the Storm are roughly the same as those in the original PlayStation 3 Life is Strange. They don't look great but they're not bad either. I would love to see another set of Life is Strange episodes be released with a totally revamped graphics engine. Having said that, it's easy to get so involved in it that you don't even notice the less than stellar graphics given the games are all about story. The voice acting is top-notch and considering there's such a variety of characters represented, they do a great job of matching the emotion in the voice with the state of the character. Most of the music sounds like a generic soundtrack catered towards teens but it makes perfect sense that it would be and it matches the vibe of the story very well.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm delivers on its promise of a captivating story that brings humanity to the idea of presumably senseless teen angst. It's a joy to experience and the gameplay is fun where it can be found. Here's hoping for yet another series of episodes!
- + Compelling story that digs into the lives of many interesting characters
- + Strong voice acting
- + Introduces new tug-of-war mechanic
- - Graphics start to feel a little old on current generation consoles
- - No time rewind like in the original or any special powers for that matter