The first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm showed that developer Deck Nine Games could adequately make a prequel that felt in-line with the series that inspired it. The second episode, however, shows that Deck Nine Games aren’t just playing with someone else’s toys, but have plenty of their own creative ideas as well. The episode, called Brave New World, isn’t just a good follow-up, but one of the best standalone episodes in the entire series.
While I was largely left impressed with the first episode, I had grown a bit worried by the end since it looked like some supernatural elements may have been introduced. That wasn’t a deal breaker in of itself, after all the original Life is Strange was built around being able to manipulate time, but it seemed awfully out of place. Thankfully, it looks like I was wrong (at least so far), as Brave New World is one of the most grounded episodes of the series yet.
The episode largely focuses with the problems that both Chloe and Rachel are dealing with after their wild night quite literally set the forests around them ablaze. While they aren’t blamed for the forest fire, there are repercussions for skipping school, and both students can wind up getting suspended for the act. The episode opens up with a big choice where players can either decide to play along with some of Rachel’s lies that wind up getting them both in trouble (and Rachel then won’t be able to perform in the play like she was supposed to), or Chloe can take the full blame and get herself expelled. I wound up falling on my sword for Rachel (what can I say, she won me over in the last episode), and Chloe found herself without a school to attend (something I figured she wouldn’t really mind all that much).
While that’s a major decision the player has to make right off the bat, it’s not even remotely close to the second episode’s most intense moments. Several times during Brave New World, I found myself pausing the episode during a pivotal decision, and walking away to think it over for a bit. That’s how difficult these decisions are, and while there’s never a “right” or “wrong” decision to make in Life is Strange, there certainly are repercussions to the player’s actions.
Episode two also features more faces from the past than the first episode, as there are some fantastic scenes with both Samuel, the school’s thought-provoking janitor, and Pompidou as a puppy (who is just the cutest). Before the Storm has done a great job of balancing a new story and letting players get to spend some time with characters they’re already fond for. It’d be really easy to constantly go for cheap pops by presenting nostalgic scenes, but Deck Nine Games have handled every reference and section of the story with grace.
There’s also plenty of exploration scenes in episode two, and there are a few great puzzles in the episode. One is where players must attempt to figure out a lock combination by exploring a room (which does a great job of teaching the player about another character and their priorities), while the other (which I won’t spoil since the scene is so dang good and surprising) is a real test of memory. Both are a blast to solve, and prove that this isn’t just about story, as the gameplay enhances the narrative throughout.
The thing I adore the most about Before the Storm is how unapologetically queer it allows players to be. Unlike the first game, which largely danced around the subject until the ending, players can get into a full-blown relationship with Rachel if they wish to do so (it’s also totally possible to have a totally platonic friendship, so the choice all comes down to the player and nothing ever feels forced). Getting to see the two characters truly happy together during such a tough time for each of them was genuinely heartwarming, and there’s a fantastic scene near the end of the episode that really showcases how well Deck Nine Games has handled their romance. It’s great to see a queer relationship presented in a major release in a natural, and non-forced way. I’m hoping in the future that such a romance won’t feel so special, but in the current gaming climate, it feels like a strong and necessary step forward.
What’s most impressive about Brave New World is how it totally goes out on a high note. It ends with a totally shocking twist that I didn’t see coming at all, while also not feeling unbelievable. It’s a great way to throw the entire two episode narrative on its head, and I can’t wait to see where it all heads. I’m not sure I’m ready for this to be all over in one more episode, but I don’t have a choice in the matter.
Two episodes in, and I’m absolutely astonished at just how good Life is Strange: Before the Storm is. Deck Nine Games have managed to both stay faithful to Dontnod’s original while also adding their own flavor to the game, and it manages to succeed thanks to some really strong writing. Even as someone that fullheartedly loved the first game, it has managed to outdo all my expectations, and has made a lot of my worries seem silly in retrospect. Now I’m excited to see how Before the Storm concludes next episode, and have zero doubt that they’ll nail the landing.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 2 review code provided by publisher. Reviewed on PlayStation 4 Pro. For more information on scoring, please read our Review Policy.