Ever since its unveiling at E3 this year during Microsoft's Xbox conference, fans of the original Life is Strange have been eagerly awaiting the release of Life is Strange: Before the Storm.
When it finally went live this morning, the first episode of the new prequel title did not disappoint. Despite a few small issues, the compelling soundtrack, the series's trademark gorgeous art style, thought-provoking choices, and an emotionally charged narrative all make Before the Storm's four-hour long introduction a brutal, beautiful experience that you don't want to miss.
Step into the life of Chloe Price
In Before the Storm, we take control not of Max, but of Chloe Price, her best friend in the first game. Set three years prior to the original game, Before the Storm gives us a strong look into Chloe's adolescence.
In many ways, Chloe embodies the stereotypical rebellious teenager archetype perfectly. Between her drug habits, disregard for authority (parental and otherwise) and generally sassy attitude, she comes off immediately as she did in the first game — your typical, angsty, "You don't understand, mom" sixteen year old.
This isn't a bad thing, however. In fact, it's far from it. Chloe has every reason to be upset about the things that have happened in her lifetime. Between her father's demise two years prior in a car accident, her best friend Max moving to Seattle, and going dark on communications, and her mother finding another love interest, Chloe is surrounded by things that hurt and confuse her young adult mind.
What makes the narrative here so compelling is that it does a phenomenal job at making you empathize. Imagine losing your father (one that she idolized, mind you) at the age of 14, having your best friend leave shortly after, and then suddenly your mother falls in love with another man who tries to fill the void left by your father.
This is where the brilliance of Before the Storm's introductory episode really shows. It makes a huge effort to pierce the walls that critics of the first game built around Chloe, dismissing her as a stereotypical edgy rebel. It peels those things away, and what's left is a person who has gone through so much, so fast, and as a result is wounded emotionally. Before the Storm portrays a young, vulnerable and still-developing mind going through some of the most adult struggles you could imagine.
What really gripped me here, though, is how relatable it was. The writing in this first episode reminded me a lot of some of my own difficult experiences as a teenager, and while I never experienced something as tragic as a parental death or the loss of a best friend, I think everyone went through rough times in their adolescent years at some point, and I think that this narrative will really resonate with people because of that.
As amazing as the writing is, there were a few moments in the first episode where the teenage angst levels kicked in to maximum overdrive. Some bits of dialogue in particular were so comically dramatic and "edgy" that I physically cringed. While Chloe's angsty attitude compliments the narrative overall, these particular occurrences laid it on a little bit too thick. Thankfully, though, these moments were few and far between, and didn't harm the story much.
Lastly, RacheI Amber, the missing woman from the first game, makes a compelling return in Before the Storm. I won't touch on Rachel much here as I don't want to ruin the experience of getting to know her through playing, but her character in comparison to Chloe in episode one left a huge impact. Fans of the original Life is Strange will know that Chloe and Rachel were undoubtedly very close; so far, Before the Storm does a superb job at planting the seeds of that relationship, and I can't wait to see how it grows in the next episode.
Words as weapons
As you might expect, the infamous time-rewind mechanic from Life is Strange doesn't make a return in Before the Storm. In its place comes Backtalk, a new type of dialogue option in which Chloe can verbally argue and intimidate to get her way.
In order to succeed with this new mechanic, you'll need to use your wits to get under your opposition's skin. For example, when a bouncer mockingly calls you cute, you can make fun of his "cute" motorcycle with a flower emblem woven into the leather. Choose a retort that is mostly unrelated to the argument or doesn't respond well to their comebacks, though, and you'll lose the argument quickly.
This type of dialogue option not only resonates perfectly with Chloe's sassy nature, but it also adds a degree of skill to the gameplay. Get good at choosing the right response, and you'll be surprised at what your mouth can get you — or get you out of.
As with the first game, you can freely explore the areas the plot takes place in and hear Chloe's thoughts on what you see as you look around. This makes it easy to immerse yourself in the setting, and it does a great job of heightening the experience. Unfortunately, though, compared to the first episode of the original game, there's noticeably less to see and interact with. I wish that there was that same level of detail to the world this time around.
For completionists, there are several different optional graffiti opportunities spread out throughout the episode's many settings. When you find them, Chloe can choose to write something that represents how she feels at the current moment. While mostly being there to fill a "collectibles slot" for achievements, the little notes Chloe leaves compliment the story nicely and help to demonstrate what's going on in her head.
The choices in Before the Storm's introductory episode are tough ones. Deciding what to say or do is very thought-provoking — you'll find yourself thinking, "How will this effect Chloe down the line?" This is always a good thing in story-adventure games. That being said, it's impossible to say how much your choices will actually effect the later episodes. Given the excellent writing that Deck Nine has done so far, I wouldn't be surprised if your choices end up mattering very much.
The music and art create gorgeous atmosphere
In an introduction full of pain and sadness, the soft and smooth pastel art style Life is Strange is known for helps to contrast the writing and paint Chloe's surroundings as a paradise. I feel that there's a message here — even the most pleasant places can contain grief and anger. Even people who see perfectly OK on the outside might not be on the inside. This may be me looking too deep into it, but nonetheless, it adds a touching element to the setting.
Musically, the band Daughter's songs provide a fitting and appropriate background sound to the events on screen. The indie music is never over or underwhelming, and always seemed to be present right when music was needed. It isn't the star of the show, but it didn't need to be and wasn't supposed to be. It is just right.
Final thoughts on Life is Strange: Before the Storm
The first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a dark, emotional first chapter of Chloe's past. Supported by fitting music, a beautiful art style, and solid gameplay, Before the Storm's introductory episode writes a phenomenal story that powers through its issues and delivers a heart-wrenching narrative that left me craving more.
- Amazing story.
- Tough, thought-provoking choices.
- Gorgeous art and music.
- Fun new Backtalk mechanic.
- Teen angst attitude occasionally feels over-emphasized.
- Not as much to explore compared to the first game.
Before the Storm's first episode is available now for $5.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Steam.
This review was completed on Xbox One, using a review copy provided by the publisher.