Life Is Strange was a unique but well-made game that took the Telltale Games’ formula and improved on it to make an amazing experience, but its major accomplishments feel unique to the point that a return to the same game could never live up to the original.
At the same time, prequels can be extremely hard to pull off. It’s worse when the story is the key component of the game, and players already know the results of the character’s arcs. Yet Life Is Strange: Before the Storm is a prequel that tries to do just that and seems to succeed.
Life Is Strange: Before The Storm revolves around Chloe, Max’s friend from the original Life is Strange. In Life Is Strange, Chloe is a punk dropout of a prestigious academy, and much of the game revolves around Chloe and Max. In addition, there’s a missing girl known as Rachel Amber, who is unseen and unknown though Life Is Strange does explore and explain her disappearance.
Choosing to feature Chloe as the protagonist and Rachel as a major character seems like a poor choice as the destination of both characters can only be the beginning of the former game, and both characters are pretty well defined there. Yet Deck Nine took the challenging task of exploring both characters and has produced something unique.
Chloe has been rolled back into a pre-punk, while Chloe is the rebellious type, she still attends the academy at the beginning. In addition, other characters who will appear in Life Is Strange to have small arcs that will play out, such as Chloe’s mom dating a man named David, who later will become Chloe’s Stepfather in Life Is Strange.
Deck Nine takes the time to examine each character and develop them. Rather than just accept the original game as a hard canon, most characters are explored from a different angle. Max from the first game will see many characters through her lens, but Chloe with an anti-authority mentality will see many of the same characters differently, and that makes the journey in Life Is Strange: Before the Storm particularly poignant. It’s not just that players are revisiting the same characters, but rather we’re seeing the entire world through a different view with neither character’s subjective interpretations being treated as fact.
There are a few new characters in Life Is Strange: Before the Storm, but the most important is Rachel Amber as she is a major plot point in the original game even though she never appears. Now given a chance to shine in Life Is Strange, Rachel becomes the core of the story. Life Is Strange: Before the Storm is fully about Chloe Price and Rachel Amber, and their relationship.
Though I use the word relationship to be all-encompassing. In the beginning, Chloe Price knows of Rachel Amber but meets her for the first time when she saves Chloe from a pair of angry gentlemen. From there, while much of Life Is Strange: Before the Storm explores Chloe’s life, Rachel remains a major part of it, and the two girls’ adventures are what keeps the player’s attention.
Chloe and Rachel’s relationship is up to the player to guide as well. There are numerous ways the story can go with slight bends each way, and players are given the chance to play out and see how their choices guide both characters.
A major difference between Life Is Strange and Before the Storm is that Max’s power to rewind time is missing. Players no longer can check out multiple results of their choices, so each choice becomes a little more important, but also choices can matter more. There are several simple but important choices but there are also hidden values so, over time, Chloe and Rachel’s relationship will slowly move towards different levels.
None of this is done poorly though, Chloe talks and acts like a teenager would, avoiding simplistic dialog, but also skipping many of the overwritten messes that authors can get into when they forget their characters are reacting to real events playing out in front of them, rather than coming up with comebacks that sound rehearsed and researched.
The dialogue and conversation are so natural in Life Is Strange: Before The Storm, as I guided my characters into a romantic relationship that it was only after about half the game was over that I suddenly realized I was playing a game that appeared to focus heavily on a lesbian romance. A lesbian romance that was neither required as part of the story nor felt forced into being. Calling it a romance feels incorrect, just due to how often romantic stories are so poorly written. Life Is Strange: Before The Storm tells a better story, mostly in that it has so much to talk about and explore, even as it focuses on one core relationship.
There are other meaningful choices. None of which will change how the original game’s story fits with this piece, but instead how major moments occur or if certain events happen. The final scene has a major decision tree, and in fact, my final scene felt empty and wrong in a way that I wasn’t expecting. I checked it out online and I had failed a dialogue test, where I missed some hidden score. Normally this upsets me because it would require the player to replay the entire game to get an alternate ending but here, the scene before the finale was all that decided which way the game ended, and yet it’s more complex than a simple choice, which makes the experience feel better.
So Life is Strange: Before the Storm is an excellent story, and it would have to be with the focus on it. Outside of the story though, the rest of the game is serviceable, and the big change is that instead of Max’s rewind power in the original game, Chloe has a “debate” mechanic that is left lacking.
The debates in Life Is Strange: Before The Storm focuses completely on matching word choice, or clever retorts rather than making important and salient points. There are usually even two choices that are correct and one wrong choice, but the experience of the debates just feels off, compared to the rest of the game as the game throws a timed response into the mix, but even entering the debates is a choice.
In fact with the loss of the rewind power, Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is searching for a feature that can impress the audience. A well-written story is a strong piece of the experience, but Life Is Strange: Before The Storm becomes the typical storybook game for its genre, though with writing that will make the player take notice. However, after such a strong first game, Before the Storm can’t live up to expectations.
That doesn’t make Life Is Strange: Before the Storm a bad game, it’s just a step or two behind the previous title. If you enjoyed Life Is Strange, the sequel, Before the Storm is a must-play, but if someone disliked Life Is Strange, they won’t find anything new or unique here.
I give Life Is Strange: Before The Storm a
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