Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 Review – Teenage Feelings (PS4)
I absolutely adore Life is Strange. I fell in love with the characters of Dontnod Entertainment’s adventure game, and once the credits rolled I felt like I had seen a complete story. I didn’t need to see more of Max and Chloe, nor did I want to venture back into Arcadia Bay. It worked as a standalone title, and I was happy to leave it as that. That’s not happening, though. Life is Strange 2 is on the way, and Square Enix brought on Deck Nine Games to release a prequel title starring Chloe before she had blue hair and a hella sweet sleeve.
Called Before the Storm, the prequel focuses on Chloe as she attempts to deal with losing both her dad and best friend. Grief manifests in many different ways, and for Chloe it’s mainly anger. This has caused her to give up on school, look towards an escape in drugs, and has opened a rift between her and her mother, who is more ready to move on than her daughter. There’s a whole lot of drama to unpack here, and that’s great news for those who loved the intense conversations of the original.
Chloe isn’t alone for long, though. Through a series of events, she becomes the unlikely friend of Rachel Amber, one of the most popular students at Blackwell Academy. Most of the first episode of Before the Storm is spent exploring the very beginning of their friendship. This begins with a chance encounter at a concert and quickly evolves into hopping on a train after ditching school. Chloe is as confused as the player is at the suddenness of these events, and watching them play out through the episode is a real treat.
I was originally very worried about another studio being behind the prequel, but Deck Nine Games really nailed both the feel of the characters and the town of Arcadia Bay. All of the returning characters feel natural in both their dialogue and acting. I never felt a disconnect between my memories of them and what was presented in the prequel. It’s also nice getting to see some of the familiar faces and places, as I had forgotten how much I had enjoyed the entire supporting cast of the first game and not just Max and Chloe. Everything just feels right, and it’s clear that Deck Nine spent a lot of time nailing the vibe of Arcadia Bay.
Since there’s no time winding mechanic in Before the Storm, a lot of the puzzle solving is through dialogue exchanges. Chloe has always been ready to hurl insults, so the game uses this to their advantage by introducing a new backtalk feature where the player will have to choose the correct responses to win arguments. These exchanges are a lot of fun, and additional dialogue options can be opened up by exploring the environment (this replaces the similar mechanic in the first game where Max would have new options due to rewinding time). Everything fits the character well, including the collectible aspect of finding areas to graffiti.
My favorite part of Before the Storm was simply exploring the environments. As I walked around Chloe’s house, I was able to realize why it’s so hard for her to move on. She was constantly bringing up both her dad and Max when I examined objects, and it got even more sad when I looked at her journal, which is written as increasingly angry letters to Max. These moments of exploration do a lot to add to the story, and there’s even a skippable Dungeons & Dragons game that the player can stumble into before class starts. It’s a 15-minute sequence complete with dice rolls and picking skills, and it’s absolutely awesome. To think that some people skipped seeing one of Before the Storm‘s best moments is a bummer, but it really shows that players need to explore to get the full experience.
Face Your Anger
There are a lot of familiar faces in Before the Storm, and as a player I ended up having a hard time dealing with some. For example, rich kid turned total creep Nathan Prescott is shown early on being bullied, and the game asks if the player wants to help him. I simply didn’t care. Knowing what becomes of the character gave me zero reason to ever be nice. He doesn’t deserve it, and no amount of sad backstory will ever begin to justify his actions in the original. On the other end of the spectrum, it was rough watching Chloe and David be at each other’s’ throats after all of the character development that happens in the original. It all makes sense from a story perspective (this is a prequel after all), but I can’t help but feel a bit bad when watching it unfold.
I’m also slightly cautious about what looked to be supernatural elements during the ending sequence of Before the Storm‘s first episode. I was enjoying how the prequel was coming from a toned-down place compared to the time-traveling antics of the original, so that left me a bit concerned going forward. It’s far too early to judge, though. I just hope that the focus stays on the characters themselves and not a greater struggle.
Despite feeling hesitant going into Before the Storm, Deck Nine Games’ rendition of Arcadia Bay quickly reminded me of why I loved the series and its characters in the first place. Any fears of this being a cash-in on a beloved game melted away, and I was able to fully enjoy Awake without any second thoughts. I’m excited to see where Chloe and Rachel’s story goes from here, even if I already know how tragic it ultimately ends.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.