Review – Life is Strange: Before the Storm

Life is Strange: Before the Storm is the follow up title that nobody expected, no one asked for and quite honestly, has no business being as good as it is. This prequel to the 2015 episodic coming-of-age-meets-super-powers adventure title, Life is Strange, is developed by a different studio and is one of the first casualties from the 2017 voice SAG-AFTRA strike. Deck Nine takes over development duties from Dontnod and made a fair amount of changes. Ashly Burch did not reprise her role as Chloe Price, but she was a consulting writer. Likewise, the main time manipulation mechanic from the original is absent as a result of Max Caulfield being absent from the prequel story.

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“This thing of darkness, I acknowledge mine.”

Before the Storm’s first episode, Awake, played out for me in the exact same way the entire season of Life is Strange played out. At first it was slower and I was picking out all the things that I disliked. By the middle, I was completely back in their world and along for the ride. Loving the characters, loving the interaction. Then by the end, I was left punched in the stomach mouthing, “damn…”. All in the final minutes, hitting you with a whirlwind of emotion, one after the other: Joy, laughter, empathy, confusion, hurt. Then just pain.

The main protagonist has changed from Max to her best friend, Chloe. This is after her father’s death and after Max has moved away. This also seems to be right at a crucial time for Chloe; where you can tell she is hanging on desperately to Max, a final line to a past life, but also ready to embrace the “I don’t give a @#$!” badass persona she is in Life is Strange. You still attend Blackwell Academy, David is not your stepfather, and your relationship with Rachel is just beginning.

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“Misery acquaints a man with strange bedfellows.”

In fact, much like the first season of Life is Strange, your relationship with and the mystery of Rachel is the focal point again. What ends as a friendship being forged in episode 1 becomes a pretty strong bond in episode 2, Brave New World. It is this bond that keeps Rachel together as she uncovers her own family secrets. Chloe realizes that not all demons are as out in the open and as obvious as her own. Leaning on each other to overcome them and at the end, the surprise reveal of a mysterious character.

In the third and final episode, Hell is Empty, all the players are on the board and the parallel stories are converging. You finally know who the mysterious woman is throughout the game and her connection to the Amber family. Unfortunately, what should be the best episode turns into being the weakest. On paper, it looks like a lot happens but it just feels rushed.

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“We are such stuff as dreams are made on, and our little life is rounded with a sleep.”

Max’s rewind mechanic has been replaced with a much more grounded “back-talk”. This plays great into who Chloe is and becomes. At first, it’s almost seeming like she is trying to be tougher than she is while later, it comes across much more fluid and comfortable. The key is to recognize a keyword from the person you are back-talking, and to exploit that in a response. Adding a timer does make it more challenging, but more importantly it is in direct contrast with season one’s method of rewinding until you are happy with your choice. You make a hurried decision and live with your choice. This was not the only mechanic changed by Deck Nine. Chloe has the option to tag certain objects by marking it with graffiti. Just like with Max and her photo’s, this is just something fun and is what trophies are tied to. And unlike Life is Strange, you can now go back and replay any chapter in an episode so missed tag locations can be revisited without playing the entire episode over again.

The diary menu system makes its return and I am thankful it did. In their first season, I read some, I skipped some. Max just wasn’t a truly interesting character. She was, honestly, very vanilla while the rest of the world had flavor. But coming from Chloe, it was a bit emotional to keep reading as she tries to stay in this contact with Max the only way she could. Every update, I was reading about the events I just played and knowing it was to an absent friend made it hit that much more.

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“Hell is empty and all the devils are here.”

Very rarely in a game, do I even notice its soundtrack, much less just sit there enjoying it. Before the Storm’s soundtrack is done by UK folk band, Daughter and it is excellent. Many times, you have the option to just sit and listen to their tracks and I found myself putting the controller down and doing just that. Unfortunately, the voice cast is not always as successful. Deck Nine did the best they could due to the strike. And although Rhianna DeVries does do an admirable job, it fell flat at times. Any scene with Chloe actually talking, she did well. But the parts where Chloe is involved with an inner monologue, it just came off as flat and boring. This is only reinforced in the bonus episode where Ashly makes her return and nails the character.

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“What’s past is prologue.”

Speaking of, Farewell is the bonus prequel to both season 1 and season 2 of Life is Strange. Throughout both seasons, you are made aware of Max’s reluctance to stay in contact with Chloe. Unfortunately, this doesn’t do anything to answer why. It is awesome to get Ashly Burch back reprising her role as Chloe and it is awesome getting a glimpse of their last day together. But we have already re-lived “that fateful day” in the Price home and doing it again had far less impact.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm definitely comes out swinging and landing everything they throw at you, although the punches do land a little less as the chapters continue. Not all ‘walking sims’ are equal, yet Life is Strange has found a way to continue to stand out from adventure games that fail to invest and connect with their players. 

Graphics: 7.0

PS3 era graphics fit fine, but they’re not pushing any technical boundaries.

Gameplay: 7.0

In the end, it’s limited by the type of adventure game it is. But its handled better than most.

Sound: 9.0

The soundtrack, which plays more like a mixed tape, shines.

Fun Factor: 8.0

Invests you in characters and side stories being told. Adding chapter select really helps replayability.

Final Verdict: 7.5

Life is Strange: Before the Storm is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC