Life is Strange: Before the Storm starts off three years before the events of the original game. The mere thought of subtlety was laughable, and Deck Nine Games continues this approach with Chloe in Before the Storm. Although basically mandatory due to the setup of the franchise, it was one of the issues I was worried about upon first hearing of a prequel game. For one, prequels tend to never really pan out well story wise. Granted this is an entirely story based franchise, but if any game could pull of a prequel, it would be Life is Strange: Before the Storm.
As you by now already know, Life is Strange is my favorite game of all time. Bar none. This is a very hard bar to top when it comes to reviews, so granted I was a bit skeptical. Often times the emotional hype for a game gets so high, that the actual game can’t deliver on its expectations. Before the Storm let’s you step into Chloe’s shoes this time rather than Max, and truly hits an emotional homerun. It comes from the opposite end of the spectrum, but it is still able to deliver the impact that fans were hoping for.
Chloe is continually suffering from her father’s death. She is suffering from wounds that she has neither the time nor the energy to try and heal. The word has been thrown about multiple times in both games, and by now we know that Chloe is a badass. The question of does Chloe’s suffering stem from actual emotional turmoil versus standoffish grandstanding has been around since episode one of the original game. Although it would obviously be a bit of both, trying to figure out which of these played a bigger part was always on the player’s mind. We get that answer in Before the Storm, although we will have to wait and see how it manifests in the final two episodes. Deck Nine chose to portray Chloe with more legitimate suffering than grandstanding, which was an excellent choice and played out incredibly well. People identify with legitimate emotion much more than standoffishness to avoid confronting one’s feelings. With a story so deep and emotional as Chloe’s, especially one that so many players have likely gone through in their own lives, this was the perfect choice.
There are no special power aspects in Before the Storm. Instead of rewinding time, we are instead given the ability to use a back talk system. We are introduced to it in the very first scene, and it adds a level of anxiety we haven’t experienced before. This allows Chloe to use insults and snarky remarks in order to win an argument. Each choice has a time limit, and you either win or lose each “round”. A correct answer will earn you a bubble at the bottom of the screen, while an incorrect one will earn the person you are talking to one. It’s important to note that if you play these as you think Chloe would talk to people, you will lose and lose quickly. You’ll need to play off of the other person’s words, often times with one wrong answer dooming your debate.
With her father already gone, Deck Nine thrusts us into the budding relationship of Chloe Price and Rachel Amber. After going through a whirlwind of joy, suffering, stress and breakdown in the original Life is Strange with Rachel’s story, I couldn’t help but smile in a sense of satisfaction when I finally got to see the person who changed Chloe’s life so much. Rachel and Chloe end up ditching school (shocker, right?) and have a day out surrounded by emotion and vulnerability.
Chloe Price needs to be saved. In a gut wrenching series of events we see unfold, everyone who has the ability to help her has left. Even her own mother, while seemingly trying to help in her own way, has abandoned her according to Chloe’s observations. Her best friend Max is gone to Seattle, and we get to witness Chloe's turmoil through a series of journal entries and letters which she will never mail. One such entry, which is a nod to a certain film currently getting the sequel treatment, shows how Chloe is so open and accepting of another situation she finds herself in. No spoilers, don't worry. While Before the Storm isn’t about saving anyone like the original game per se, it is about extending a lifeline. When do you trust someone? When do you love someone? When should you shut someone out?
Nothing is ascue aesthetically in Before the Storm. The lighting is tender and smooth, while the music is so light it could float. Several characters from the first game make an appearance, and you can already see their personalities budding for better or worse. Ashly Burch no longer voices Chloe, and we are instead treated to newcomer Rhianna Devries. Chloe’s voice had such tenacity and emotion in the original game that it was hard to imagine someone else behind the microphone. Any of these worries should be left aside. Yes, so it’s not Ashly Burch. Ms. Devries, however, pulls off a stunning Chloe Price. The game taking place three years earlier than the original allows for a certain difference in her tone of voice based on puberty and maturity. It’s the little things, like small inflections in her voice and emphasis on certain syllables, that makes Devries’ portrayal of Chloe Price so realistic.
If I may offer any advice while playing, it would be to do the right thing. Sans spoilers, the final scene shows how every choice you make impacts everyone, even those who are not around. The phrase “Cloak and Dagger” will become ironic for its multiple meanings. Life is Strange: Before the Storm offers us the chance to use trust and love as our cloak and dagger. Playing it safe to protect yourself or laying it all on the line to take a chance is rarely a weapon we are given the opportunity to employ. Episode 1: Awake brings this to the forefront, and I can only hope we have enough time to succeed.