After starting the sequel to the critically acclaimed story adventure game Life is Strange with a bang with the first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, developer Deck Nine released the second chapter of the three-part story Thursday morning.
After an excellent start with the pilot, I had high expectations for the next installment in the title. These expectations were met ... mostly. However, there are some noticeable issues with this episode that weren't present in the previous one. Thankfully, though, it's still a great experience.
Story: Chloe and Rachel vs. The World
Episode two of Before the Storm is mostly centered around the developing relationship between Chloe Price and Rachel Amber. After the two found much common ground in the introductory episode, a serious friendship began to bloom between the pair. This chapter, set a day after the first, illustrates how that relationship is continuing to grow quite strongly.
While it was obvious that this story would make the relationship a focus, I can't help but feel the pacing is very unnatural. Things that Chloe and Rachel were confiding in each other about after only a day or two were things I wouldn't feel comfortable telling friends that I've known for months. The themes that are present aren't disappointing. In fact, they're incredibly well written. But the speed at which these two young women come to trust each other is unrealistic.
Some might argue that due to the fact both are emotionally damaged, they're much more open to a comforting figure like a new friend. While this is true to an extent, I believe their trauma would, more likely than not, make them skeptical and cautious about people they meet and choose to open up to. Overall, it feels like the story needed more time to build up the connection between Rachel and Chloe. Perhaps this is the weakness of only having three episodes instead of five.
Aside from this, though, the writing is competent. New characters are interesting and engaging, and it's a treat getting to see and observe the characters from the first game in a prequel setting, and who they were prior to who they are when Max Caulfield arrives in Arcadia Bay. It makes you wonder what happened to them that made them change so much, which is something that the next episode will no doubt answer.
Gameplay: Fun, intense, and immersive
Unlike the narrative itself, the gameplay in Before the Storm's second episode remains just as satisfying as it was in the first. Choices especially are quite intense. I'd venture to say that they are some of the most thought-provoking choices I've seen in this genre in a long time.
Aside from choice-making, the main form of gameplay in Before the Storm lies in exploring and accomplishing small objectives. The tasks that you accomplish in order to progress the story feel mundane at first, but they give you an excuse to venture around the setting of the scenes. For example, there's a part in the episode where Chloe is trying to fix up a car's interior. One of the tasks is to find a towel to cover a ripped backseat. Finding a towel in the middle of a junkyard seems like a chore, but once you check out everything there is to find and learn about this universe, it'll be worth it. Sadly, though, as with episode one, there's not as much to explore as there was in the original Life is Strange.
Lastly, the backtalk mechanic that was introduced in the pilot episode returns. This mechanic continues to impress, and I can't stress enough just how satisfying it is to convince others that you're in the right with assertive language. The challenge of quickly selecting the correct type of response based on your opponent's comeback is also very engaging.
Atmosphere: Art and music steal the show
As expected, Before the Storm continues to perfectly craft its world through a gorgeous score and Life is Strange's trademark pastel-like art style. Thanks to the excellence of both, the setting of Arcadia Bay feels very authentic. the dialogue writing and voice acting are both on point as well.
The only criticism I have here is that every once in a while, a character spouts a line of comedy that is as far from comedic as possible. Some of the jokes are extremely cringe-worthy, and I seriously doubt any real person would ever even think to say them. These moments are, sadly, a bit immersion breaking, but thankfully they are rare.
Final thoughts on Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 2
Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 2 is a great continuation of the new narrative, but it doesn't quite match the excellence of the pilot episode due to some flawed pacing and a bit of poorly-written humor. Despite this, the story, gameplay, art and music all come together to form what is another wonderful display of Deck Nine's skill.
- Fantastic narrative.
- Fun, thought-provoking gameplay
- Gorgeous art and music.
- Pacing of the story feels very rushed.
- Occasional badly-written jokes.
You can pick up the entire season of Life is Strange: Before the Storm now for $16.99 on Xbox One, PlayStation 4 and Steam.
This review was conducted on an Xbox One, using a copy provided by the publisher.
Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.