Before The Storm is the latest game in the universe of Arcadia Bay and has been developed by Deck Nine and published by Square Enix. The developers of the original games Dontnod Entertainment are currently working on another Life Is Strange game, this one being a true sequel, Life Is Strange 2.
Before The Storm has extremely huge shoes to fill. The sequel (and prequel) to the award winning Life Is Strange takes place prior to the events of the first game, and focuses on the character of Chloe Price. Was Life Is Strange lightning in a bottle? And therefore will this follow up tarnish my memories of a very moving and emotional first game.
Well, no need to worry. Whilst Before The Storm may not quite be up to the standard of its predecessor, it is still a Life Is Strange experience to satisfy the most cynical fans out there. But let’s back up. I loved the original game. I didn’t play it on its original release, but I played all episodes back to back, in a Netflix style once all episodes had been released. As I review Before The Storm I will be playing episode by episode, so I will need to see if that has an effect on my enjoyment of the series.
Episode 1: Awake is to tell the story of Chloe Price and Rachel Amber. Chloe was one of the main characters in Life Is Strange and it’s not a spoiler to know that her father died in a car accident and she is clearly affected by this in both games. The story starts strong, with Chloe attempting to gain access to an illegal club/concert and contains a scene where her life is put in danger. She is saved by Rachel Amber, who’s name you will know from Life Is Strange, so it gives you a great idea of where the story of the series will lead. Various characters from the first game are introduced, and again, knowing them from the first game you get a good idea of their character arc in this series.
Gameplay wise there are no surprises. There is the addition of a new method called Backtalk that is used in order to win arguments. Backtalk is achieved by making correct dialogue choices, and it is first used in order to get past a bouncer at the aforementioned club. However, in order to win you needed to investigate your surroundings first as there was a very useful piece of information that was key to your success. These discoveries are flagged to you so you know this information has been found and is ready to be used in a conversation. The developers have chosen not to introduce QTE’s or anything similar, instead sticking to the tried and tested method of having the story within the game be the most memorable feature.
After the strong opening scene, the middle section explores Chloe’s current unhappiness with her home and school life, and then to set up the relationship between Chloe and Rachel. To be really honest this section is too long and doesn’t take advantage on the perilous events from the opening scene which I am sure will be revisited in future episodes. But for me it was a missed opportunity. It went quickly from danger and peril to 100% character development which at times felt slightly mundane. However, contained within this middle act was one of my favourite scenes in the game, which was an amazing Dungeons and Dragons-esque game which Chloe plays with school friends, and it is utterly hilarious.
If you played Life Is Strange you will remember that achievements were earned by taking photographs of certain features in your surroundings that needed to be hunted out, making it a worthwhile to hunt out and investigate all items in Arcadia Bay. In Before The Storm this has been replaced with Graffiti. It kind of makes sense. Max was appreciative of the world that surrounded her, whilst Chloe has more of a destructive demeanor. Your journal points you to these opportunities, much as the first game.
My biggest issue with this first episode of Before The Storm is of the main character. At the start (and in the first game) I found it very hard to like Chloe. She comes across as arrogant, aggressive and just plain nasty. However, as you progress you have dream sequences of encounters with her father and you soon come to realise that her behaviour is a coping mechanism used to avoid creating emotional bonds with others. Chloe has still not come to terms with the death of her father and is quite clearly suffering from depression, but chooses to be an outcast to prevent further pain. Although I then understood her reasons for her behaviour, However I did struggle in the scenes with her mother, where the dialogue choices were just too aggressive for my liking. I struggled to understand how she could talk to her own mum that way but that might be more to do with the fact that I have both a strong relationship with my own parents, and with my children, and I clearly haven’t been through the emotional turmoil that Chloe has.
But, when it comes to the final act Before the Storm moves away from the mundane and ramps the emotional impact up to 11. There were three moments of gut-punching moments that had me as close to tears as I can be. A scene in a junkyard was the clincher for me and made me see what the build up was for. That was what I was waiting for all game. And it delivered. There was no cliff-hanger ending but it set itself up quite nicely for the next chapter.
And, like its predecessor, the soundtrack of Before the Storm is as moving and as melancholic as I had hoped. There were times when cut scenes could be skipped and moved on but there was more enjoyment to be had to let them play, and enjoy the music and the moment you were witnessing.
I will now have to suffer in the wait until episode two, and eagerly look forward to seeing how the relationship between Chloe and Rachel progresses. Hopefully there will be less character build up and more of the emotional turmoil.
Thanks to Square Enix & Xbox for supporting TiX