Do I even bother with the jokes about how I’ve been away for a long period of time? I mean, at this point it’s just expected. (You’ll never make a career of this at this rate, Kirsten…) I know, me, but then it just wouldn’t be a blog oozing with my personality if I did that, would it?
So anyway, hey. How’s it going? How ya been? Good? Oh, that’s great to hear. Let’s talk abut a game that came out about a week ago…and that I played about a week ago and promised to write about a week ago… Okay, enough of the self-shaming.
I’ve never talked about the original Life is Strange on here because I played it before I made this thing. A quick review on that is: I liked it. Yeah, that’s about it. It was cringey and made stupid jokes whilst tugging on your heart strings for a character who is actually kind of an asshole, what’s not to love? So, how does a company make more money off such a seemingly well-accepted game? Make a sequel with more time powers or even…psychic time stuff? No, no. Just make a fan service prequel about said asshole character.
Title: Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 1
Genre: Third-person, Graphic Adventure
Release Date: August 31st, 2017
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Deck Nine
Before the Storm has you take control of Chloe Price, Max’s best friend from the first game, but 3 years prior to the events of Life is Strange. The first episode of the prequel focuses mainly on Chloe’s relationships with not only her parents and schoolmates but with the mysterious character of Rachel Amber that our protagonist would endlessly gush about in the original.
A world without Max Caufield..
The game is based on the player’s choices. Depending on how you speak to people and react to situations will determine how characters respond to you and how far a conversation will branch. In the original Life is Strange these choices didn’t completely matter as Max’s time control abilities allowed the player to go back and make a new choice or open up a new conversational branch. Chloe’s choices, on the other hand, have a much more definitive feel to them as she doesn’t have the ability to control time.
What does Chloe have instead? The “Backtalk” feature. What is the “Backtalk” feature I hear all two of you ask? Exactly what it sounds like. Chloe’s anti-authority (I’m sure there’s a better way of saying that) attitude allows you in certain situations to backtalk and essentially put other character’s in their place. A tutorial for this is demonstrated at the start of the game when she is attempting to get into a private concert by berating a bodyguard until he gives up and allows you entry.
One of the main things I will give Before the Storm credit for is its ability to make you feel almost sorry for Chloe’s character. (Spoilers if you haven’t played the original ahead…sort of…) We already knew her father’s death and the introduction of a new father figure had had an incredibly negative impact on her from the first game but Before the Storm gives the player more of an understanding as to how she processed the loss. From her mother hiding photographs to Chloe’s own journal entries, you begin to understand some of the reasoning behind her behaviour.
Similarly to Life is Strange, the graphics are reminiscent to that of the Sims yet somehow the scenery is beautiful. Arcadia Bay has gorgeous sunlit beaches and forestry and yet up close they are almost 2D. Character’s eyes can at times seem lifeless and can cause for more emotional scenes to fall flat. I’m looking at you train scene with Rachel Amber. However, it is something I can look past as the characters are filled with personality, albeit some of their personalities suck but it’s a personality. The soundtrack was one of my favourite things about the original game and Deck Nine have not disappointed with their selection of indie tunes. Though, I am partial to acoustic music so I’m bias.
The “problem child” trope continues!
Although I believe criticising the voice acting in this particular game is unfair as they were affected by the SAG-AFTRA strike and would have had the original voice if they had been able to, I’m going to criticise it anyway. I don’t believe Rhianna DeVries did a terrible job of Chloe in comparison to Ashley Burch and her voice style could have easily been seen as an attempt at making the character appear younger than her LiS counterpart. However, at times it honestly sounded too similar to Max’s voice from the original and unfortunately, the way the character’s speak and the cringey “look-I-speak-teen” script, it didn’t help the case.
On a separate note, you might have noticed I didn’t say much about the “Backtalk” feature. Well, it’s because I barely used it until the game ultimately forced me to so that I could continue the story. This is just my version of Chloe and I get that she is supposed to be “badass” but I personally felt it was just the developers way of making her borderline rude for no reason other than to thrust the “problem child” trope in your face.
Other minor nuisances, in my opinion were:
The lack of exposition on Chloe’s family life let alone school life. Yes, if you read the journal you get a bit more understanding of Chloe’s personal thought but on its own, the conversation you have with her mother in the kitchen feels like a teen-movie scene; it comes out of nowhere and the player is supposed to assume these are regular talks for Chloe…but it isn’t for the player. Why does Nathan Prescott hate Chloe so much too? In the original LiS you understand their interactions better but in BtS, as far as the player is concerned, he’s just kind of a dick for no reason. Though, that may just be his character after all if you played the first game you know he’s a creep… shudder.
The foreshadowing. Life is Strange was known for its foreshadowing in the first episode so of course this time around I knew what I was looking for. Nothing is random in this universe (as much as those pesky teenagers like to think they are). For a new player, they wouldn’t have bat an eyelid at the wildfire petition at the front of the school but for players of the original, you knew something was up. It’s both a good and bad thing; good because I love a mystery but bad because all I then was waiting for was the mystery. Though, that’s probably an issue only I dealt with.
The final thing I’m going to say was a nuisance was: the stupid way these kids talk. The insults they use on each other, the way they describe things and just the way they speak is so cringey. Maybe it’s because I’m British. Do American teenagers actually speak like this? It’s hard not to laugh at the way these characters speak to each other because it constantly feels like a badly made ’80s teen movie written by 40-year-olds who think they know the “lingo”.
Life is Strange was genuinely one of my favourite choice-based adventures and I really did connect to Max and was fully immersed in the story. So far, Before the Storm is working to be a faithful prequel and I like that they chose to show the world of Arcadia Bay without the supernatural powers and what led to the events of the original. Chloe’s character has so many layers and the ending of this episode really worked on showing the player that. I’m excited to see how Episode 2 unfolds her story even further but it’s not the top of my “gaming priority” list.
I give this game a: 3/5
2 thoughts on “REVIEW: Life Is Strange: Before the Storm (Episode 1)”
As someone who absolutely loves the original ‘Life is Strange’, this article pretty much confirms many of my fears about ‘Before The Storm’ (I’ve not played it yet). My hope is that a lot of things that you felt un explained will be clear by the end of the series! I think episodic games are awesome as they allow the developers to apply feedback straight into the next episodes. Or even just add self aware in jokes = P At the same time, I feel it means a lot of the smaller details can get pushed to the way side to focus on telling the over arching story correctly. Leaving the smaller character development moments left to just journal entries etc.
Either way, great article! Keep up the good work Kirsten ^__^
I 100% agree with you. Ever since TellTale made them more popular I’ve fallen in love with episodic games and I hope that this story will unravel just as well as its previous title. Thank you!!