I like to think that I’m the biggest Life is Strange fan around, and I couldn’t wait for Before the Storm. That being said, my fellow enthusiast Andrew Gonzalez likes to think he takes the top spot. To me, Life is Strange is the best game ever made bar none. It is more of an experience than a game, and is the only thing I have ever played that actually teaches you how to live as a better human being. What made it more remarkable is that it can impact people like me, a 36 year old male at the time, debate a choice about an 18 year old girl for nearly half an hour before deciding. For what it’s worth, Life is Strange: Before the Storm manages to encapsulate the same level of the emotional roller coaster and stomach tightening anxiety that the original game does. It does it differently, and it does it with ease.
The beauty of Life is Strange is that it takes the story of a stereotypical, shy, introverted 18 year old girl and makes her completely relatable to anyone who plays the game. Young people around Max’s age may not have lived long enough to see themselves in similar situations. This allows them to make careful choices and reflect how they may react when the time comes. Older people like myself found themselves looking back and thinking “Did I make the right decision when…” and “What if I ended up doing…”. It was more of a life experience that prepared younger players and educated older players. This is a huge hill to overcome with a prequel (as well as the upcoming sequel), but Deck Nine Games pulled it off with a twist in Life is Strange: Before the Storm.
We see Chloe Price three years before the events of the first game. She is a girl who needs saving, and reeling from the fact that everyone in her life who could help has abandoned her. After the death of her father, Chloe lost her best friend Max who moved away to Seattle. Her mother has moved on with a new boyfriend David, who has not yet become her “Step-douche”. People may always need help regardless of how strong they may appear to be. It reminds me of the movie Titanic with Kate Winslett. At a certain point in the film, she states “And all the while I feel like I’m standing in the middle of a crowded room, screaming at the top of my lungs, and no one even looks up”. This is Chloe. She’s crying out for help, but doesn’t have the energy or know how to do it herself.
There is no time rewind mechanic in Before the Storm. Instead, Chloe uses a “Back Talk Challenge” system. Unlike the original game, these choices are permanent and can not be changed (Unless you restart checkpoint but that’s cheating, come on). Some instances force you to begin a back talk challenge, while others let you skip them if you choose. I really enjoyed this feature as it pegged a different emotional level for me. Max’s time rewind mechanic allowed me to decide “Should I play God and change my decision, or is this one of those things that need to be left alone?” This was because the original Life is Strange focused more on the emotional impact of maturity and doing the right thing as a human being. Before the Storm’s approach varied a bit with Chloe. Here, I was equally captivated emotionally but with a different system.
While Max focused on helping others, Chloe is too proud to ask for the help that she so desperately deserves. Instead, that onus is befell upon the players. The only thing worse than being alone is knowing that you screwed up and are the cause of your own loneliness. There is nobody else to blame. There is just your own failure. This possibility hangs over players like the sword of Damocles when it comes to forming the dynamic of Chloe and Rachel’s relationship. The game knows that Chloe just can’t outright ask for help. It instead provides a series of choices that players will need navigate in order to succeed. The choices essentially make players live vicariously through Chloe. Personally, the emotional impact for me came as if I was making the decision as Chloe. She’s so broken due to circumstances beyond her control, and my stomach was in knots at the thought of ruining her life more. “Save Chloe vs. Save the entire town of Arcadia Bay” (Spoilers, I chose Chloe) is a monumental decision. It speaks a lot to the development team at Deck Nine Games that even though no lives hung in the balance, that each decision I made with Chloe in Before the Storm maintained the same level of emotional turmoil.
Even the aesthetics were just as beautiful as the original game. The soundtrack was equally as light and airy, yet maintained an aura of punk rock to fit Chloe’s personality. The color palette and sunlight provided a nice backdrop to all of the scenes while not overshadowing the emotional impact of the moment. One thing I noticed in Before the Storm was the tie in with the game’s achievements. In Life is Strange, Max took photographs of certain situations. These were all presented with a bit of dialogue from Max, generally about what was going on at that specific time. In Before the Storm, Chloe instead tags graffiti that encompasses the entirety of her story. It was a subtle change, but one I appreciated and found fit the story arch quite nicely.
As one of the two biggest fans of Life is Strange, I was also one of the most skeptical for this prequel. I can give credit where credit is due, however, and Deck Nine Games came through like a shining star with Before the Storm. We don’t know where Before the Storm is going to end, or how far before the original Life is Strange it will be. Chloe does still need saving though, and I can only hope we get the chance to help her heal before she undergoes any further turmoil.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 Awake is available now on Xbox One.