Hey everyone, this review will be slightly different from the others this time around due to a few factors. First of all, I reviewed the first episode already (which you can read here), and covered the content of the first episode’s story and gameplay mechanics. Since there are no new mechanics introduced in the other two episodes, I won’t be touching upon the subject again, as there is nothing new to talk about. Because of this, I will be dedicating this review to discussing the story in its entirety, not just on an episode by episode basis, so this review will cover episodes 1-3 (I’ll update later with notes on the final Return to Blackwell DLC once it is released). Second, I always try to avoid story spoilers when I review, but since Before the Storm is essentially an interactive story, talking about the plot details is unavoidable. So before you read on, be warned: there shall be spoilers. 1
Chloe Price, the loveable misfit from the first season of Life is Strange, is not in a good place in her life. After the passing of her father in a tragic car crash, her mother has a new man in her life and things are getting serious between them. Her childhood friend, Max Caulfield, has moved away from Arcadia Bay and is no longer answering her calls or messages. The principal at Blackwell Academy is constantly on her case, and her school life is suffering due to her acting out and skipping class. She has yet to don the rockin’ blue hairdo that we all know and love from the first game. Then enters Rachel Amber. After sneaking into an illicit middle-of-nowhere party at an abandoned lumber mill, Chloe’s attitude gets her into trouble with a couple of scrawny punk mouth-breathers. Rachel swoops in and helps Chloe get away safely. The rest of the short three episode season is spent balancing between multiple subplots in Chloe’s messy life and the mystery that is Rachel Amber. Oh, and we also get the origin story of Chloe’s beat-up pickup truck hehehe. The plot is engaging, with a couple of surprise twists thrown in, although in some places the pace dwindles to a slow crawl. Much like its predecessor, the story culminates with an important choice to be made that will decide upon which ending you’ll receive.
Thematically, Before the Storm touches on a lot of social issues that can affect real-life teenagers. Much of Chloe’s angst is derived from loss: the loss of her father and the loss of her best friend, Max. Matters are further complicated by her mother’s serious new love interest, David the step-ladder. Her budding relationship with Rachel serves as a soothing balm to her spirit, especially once she realizes that she too is dealing with some deep-seated family issues. This also leads into bringing up the somewhat sensitive issue of questioning one’s own sexuality. Chloe’s feeling for Rachel extends a little bit deeper than just simple friendship. The uncertainty shows in their interactions, starting with some innocuous flirting in the beginning. They go back and forth: a sort of dance, testing the waters without fully admitting to anything for fear of being rejected. It eventually culminates into a serious relationship conversation by lamplight. I thought the whole thing was sweet. I didn’t seem too unnatural or forced, which is the case when people don’t really understand the issues. I find that having games like these are important. Sure, videogames first and foremost are an entertainment medium, but they can also be used to reach out to people facing certain issues and let them know that they’re not alone. And sometimes, that can make all the difference.
Now I would assume that 99% of the people who played Before the Storm beat the first season of Life is Strange. We all know that at some point Rachel Amber goes missing, and we all know what happens to her in the end. While playing through the game and watching Chloe and Rachel become friends, bonding together closely over the mutual familial miseries in their lives, and sharing some sincerely tender moments, you tend to forget what the future has in store for her. The story wraps up nicely with a montage of Chloe and Rachel enjoying their summer together; the ending theme begins to play, the credits are rolling. Then the credits end: Chloe and Rachel are looking at the camera, striking poses in one of those instant picture booths that you can usually find in malls everywhere, all while looking like they’re having the time of their lives. The game focuses on a close-up shot of one of the pictures. The music stops. The picture turns into the screensaver of a vibrating cellphone. It is Chloe calling, the phone’s screen showing 17 missed calls. The camera pans back a little bit, showing the phone on top of a glass table, in a cold, sterile room. The only other sound is that of a camera flash going off, and footsteps clacking across the hard floor as someone is walking back and forth just out of view. It’s obvious to anyone that has finished season one that we are witnessing Rachel Amber in the darkroom, the place where she meets her end at the hands of Mr. Jefferson and Nathan Prescott. This really caught me off guard, as I thought they were going to leave it unmentioned. The scene serves as a stark reminder: there are no happy endings to this story, after all is said and done.
So even though the prequel was not made by the same developers as the original first season, Before the Storm really manages to pull its own weight and keep up with the high-quality standard set by DONTNOD. The only thing that peeves me is that they had to change Chloe’s voice actor due to the strikes going on at the time, but that situation is out of their hands so no sense in holding it against them. I highly recommend this game for people who enjoy these types of heavily narrated, character-driven adventures, but I understand that it isn’t for everyone. It really was a pleasure to return to Arcadia Bay, now it’s time to sit back and wait for season 2 of Life is Strange!
*Note: A copy of this game was provided for the purpose of the review.
Final Score: 8/10
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