So many times we play characters through a lens of our own personal naratives, meaning that even with scripted games two people can come away with very different experiences. Ideally, we emerge from our media with slightly more than when we arrived, a new idea or way of thinking perhaps. I think it would be fair to say that while not everyone's cup of tea, Life is Strange was a hit with most people who stepped into the shoes of Max Caulfield and her story has since gathered a cult following.
First and foremost I must warn you in advance that if you have not played Life is Strange, I strongly recommend you stop immediately as spoilers are simply unavoidable. This review will not contain any plot spoilers for Before the Storm. I reviewed Life is Strange two years ago and came away with a very positive experience. Many fans didn’t like the binary ending because throughout the game consequence had been woven into the very fabric of the narrative. To be fair to the developer, creating a tailored ‘pay off’ moment that considered every decision would be near impossible. Yet for me I tried to see the story as a whole: it was about the journey and all that jazz. The developer, Dontnod, are said to be hard at work on Life is Strange 2 and so this prequel has been taken on by a different developer: Deck Nine Games.
Storm In a teacup
So we now go back to the period in time when Max had moved to Seattle and was, at least from Chloe’s perspective, ignoring her attempts to stay in touch. In the original game, we played from the perspective of Max, a photography student who had developed the ability to manipulate time itself. This mechanism was the main stick for the dialogue and allowed you to play with cause and effect in some interesting ways. We now play as Chloe Price who has a far more caustic personality and of course doesn't have the time traveling abilities her friend had.
One downside to prequels is that you will, by definition, know the fate of some characters. So when watching the relationship between Chloe and Rachel Amber develop, I did so with a degree of sadness. As I mentioned in my review of Life is Strange, there were always very subtle hints of sexual awakening between Max and Chloe but here we see a far stronger nudge that these two young women also find each other attractive. However, they way it is handled here is worlds away from the frankly childish way Bioware approach sexuality.
Same town, different girl
I really connected with Max because in many ways she reminded me of my younger self; observing the world from afar and usually through the lens of a camera. While Chloe is an interesting character I will be honest: I didn't like her very much in the first game. This considered I was skeptical about how I would get on with this prequel. To give the player something to chew on we now have a conversational mechanism that fits with Chloe's more full on approach to situations. When you open one of these verbal tugs of war you must work your way through the various choices and as you might expect; you will have varied success based on your decisions. The first example we see of this is where Chloe is trying to get into a rave, the bouncer has seen through her fake ID and so you must now talk your way in. All the bouncers I’ve ever met wouldn't have been charmed so easily but for the games sake, I guess we need a bit of creative license. As conversations and interactions come up you will notice that the acting this time around is a step down from the first; at least initially. Not that the acting was particularly stellar, to begin with, but it did have a very strong emotional resonance. However, that doesn't mean to say I didn't enjoy these exchanges and in fact, I loved how you can influence certain situations. I won’t talk about the second half of this first episode much beyond saying that I saw I side of Chloe that I wasn't expecting and one scene especially left me emotionally engaged with the story.
Warm and fuzzy
Life is Strange is an odd game visually, while using quite basic textures and geometry: the way they use lighting and depth of field make for some truly lovely scenes. This visual style has been taken on by Deck Nine and for the most part, they have nailed the same feeling with some very well thought out camera work. The old characters do look a little different but nothing that stood out too much and if you didn’t know, the voice actress for Chloe has changed due to the voice actor strike. Some lines do come across a little flat but overall I thought it was a good effort, players who have just been through the original might notice a difference more. Animation and lip syncing are not where this game (or the previous one) shines and to be honest if you are looking for hyper realistic visuals give this title a miss. My best advice is to try and get over these quirks early and enjoy the ride.
Overall I really enjoyed this take on the events that precluded the first game and I think it certainly is an essential purchase for fans. We obviously don't know how much the official sequel will include past events or even characters, but it would be folly to buy the next game without having first played this. We still have episode two and three to come and so my plan is to review each episode with one final summary on the finish line. As for price point, this one episode is reasonably marked up and even the full season pass is £13.99 on Steam. After a clumsy start, I left Before the Storm totally absorbed in the chemistry between Chloe and Rachel. I will return to this game for episode two in the future but for now, thank you for reading my take on Life is Strange: Before the Storm.