Life is Strange was met with critical acclaim when it was first released in 2015. Set against the backdrop of the fictional town of Arcadia Bay, it wove a complex, coming-of-age tale of friendship and the supernatural—with a dash of mystery and impending doom. Chloe, Max’s best friend, became one of the most loved characters, and the one with the most interesting backstory. So, when Deck Nine and Square Enix announced Before the Storm, a prequel with Chloe as the lead character, it stirred up a lot of excitement.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm ditches time travel for some good old-fashioned “live with the consequences” fun. The weight of the player’s choices are much heavier. The emotional fallout from those choices are permanent. There is no reset button. Just you and the dialogue, which is a light-year’s improvement from the original.
Aside from the single, cringe-worthy “check-it” line at the beginning of Before the Storm, the dialogue is well-written and flows naturally. Gone are the heavy jargon and slang-filled sentences that inadvertently became one of the trademarks of the original game. Everything is polished. For every hilarious one-liner there is an equally vicious insult. There’s even a mini game option called Backtalk, a risk/reward conversation mode with the goal of provoking or outwitting people to get your way—Chloe’s “superpower.” You have several chances to choose the right comeback, but depending on your verbal sparring opponent, they don’t have to say much to put Chloe in her place. Because of David’s military background, for example, it doesn’t take him nearly as long to do this, so any slip up in dialogue choice could lose an argument with him.
The Backtalk challenges show up only in a few key scenes, but when they pop up, they greatly affect how people perceive Chloe. Additionally, there are multiple dialogue options to choose from in “regular” scenes, but many of them don’t mean much in the way of determining the consequences of actions. When the punk you accidentally spilled beer on confronts you upstairs, for example, you have three choices of how to respond to him, but only one of those choices moves the story forward; the other two are just there for the sake of having options, but have no influence on how the scene ultimately plays out.
Character-wise, Chloe really comes to life in Before the Storm. Not to say that she wasn’t strong as the sour-but-sweet, misguided girl we came to know and love in the first game, but in this prequel her personality really shines. I subconsciously found myself getting into altercations with Chloe’s mother and David, because I was once a teenager who mouthed off to her parents more times than I can remember. However, when it came to forming friendships, my friends were my lifeline. Any chance I had to make a friend I took, so anytime the same opportunity arose in the game, I played it the same way. D&D campaign? Sure. Ditch school to take a train ride to who-knows-where with one of the most popular girls in school? Heck yeah.
Rachel Amber has some charisma—and demons—of her own, too. We only get glimpses into her persona via Chloe in the original game, but Rachel lives up to her reputation so far. Both are struggling to understand and come to terms with things that have upset each of their family’s dynamic, and they are both lashing out in similar ways. In the immediate future, this seems like it will be a benefit for their budding friendship, as they both really need a real friend that they can trust. Rachel’s emotions though are just as all over the place as Chloe’s and maybe more unpredictable for the simple fact that she isn’t the player character.
There’s one key scene between the girls where Rachel’s jovial attitude turns on a dime, making her standoffish and hostile; Chloe blames herself for Rachel’s sudden emotional shift and apologizes to Rachel, even though she wasn’t the one to initially upset her. I accurately guessed why Rachel was behaving the way she was, but not like that helped Chloe understand in that moment. Both young women are not good at expressing sadness and default to anger. They do come to an understanding later on, but because of the way she treated Chloe, there’s a part of me that thinks there’s something larger at work in Rachel’s life beyond what was revealed in this first episode.
Knowing Rachel’s fate in episode 5 of Life is Strange, I can’t help but wonder what pieces the writers will connect to major plot points in the original to Before the Storm. This creates some level of predictability, but only enough to speculate. However, I wonder how players will react to future episodes regardless if they have played the original game or not—and I’ve been wondering that about myself, too.
For example, when I chose how I interacted with other characters besides Chloe’s immediate family, I realized that I was influenced by what I already knew of the characters from the original game. I choose to stand back and watch Drew bully Nathan. I choose to sabotage Victoria’s homework. My feelings toward these characters carried over to Before the Storm. Realizing this, I thought, “Does this game stand on its own if someone hasn’t played Life is Strange?”
With only one episode to factor into that question, I don’t think it does right now. That’s not a bad thing per say, considering it is a prequel, and prequels are supposed to rely on source material to various extents, but what it means for players deciding to pick up this game is that they should play the original first. There is a lot of story and character development already in place that will make Before the Storm seem much less like a generic teen drama and more like a deeper exploration of a beloved character.
Chloe is me. She’s you. She’s so many other teens of today and throughout time. She is one of the most fully-realized characters in modern video games, and I can’t wait to see what the next episode has in store for her and Rachel.
For more information on Life is Strange: Before the Storm, check out the official website. A copy of the game was purchased by the writer.