With the release of the final bonus episode to complete the latest entry in the Life Is Strange series, I felt now was an appropriate time to do a review, given that I can talk about it as a complete picture rather than just in pieces.
Life Is Strange: Before The Storm acts as a prequel to DONTNOD’s hugely successful and incredibly heartbreaking Life Is Strange, although this time DONTNOD has given the reigns to another studio, Deck Nine, while they instead work on the upcoming Vampyr. The game also suffered from the recent voice actor strike, featuring an entirely new cast, though Ashly Burch was on the writing team to ensure there was a consistency between the games.
Along with this, the soundtrack has changed hands from one great musical artist to another, with popular indie band Daughter taking over to compose an amazing soundtrack for the game, as well as other third party licensed tracks popping up here and there for important moments.
So, what’s the premise of the game? Set three years before the first, we play as rebellious teen Chloe Price. Still in school and on the verge of dropping out, things in her life are in a downward spiral until she meets Rachel Amber. The subject of the mystery from the original game and a life changing factor for Chloe. We follow them as their friendship develops and a new mystery arises revolving around Rachel’s father and a mysterious but brutal drug dealer. As you can imagine, things go downhill from there pretty quick.
Where the first game was a supernatural mystery come disaster story, this game is more about people and relationships. How we create them, how we break them, and what happens when they go wrong. As a result, the main mechanic of the game is a far cry from Max’s time warping powers. In fact, Chloe doesn’t have any mystical powers to speak of. Her mechanic is her sharp tongue and even sharper wits.
When Chloe stumbles into a negative situation, say, on the verge of being expelled from school or stealing a pudding cup from a guy in hospital (yes, really), the ‘backtalk’ mechanic pops up. Essentially, using key words from your opponents speech, you puzzle out the appropriate response in a war of words to out-sass them and claim your reward. Which is things going a little better for Chloe. Or, if you fail, a heck of a lot worse.
It’s definitely not as exciting as time travel, but it still fits in perfectly with the theme. There’s also plenty of exploring, with objects to interact with and people to talk to. I even found myself in a mini tabletop Dungeons and Dragons style game in the first episode. It makes exploring every nook and cranny worth it, especially with the option to graffiti certain locations. Which serves as this games version of Max’s picture taking. This makes the adventure game portion where you can walk around and explore even more worth it, constantly stumbling on interesting things and even a few extra options to impact events later in the game.
The game also has this theme of overwhelming sadness. While the original at least had hopeful notes and some humor, and so does this one, the drama of the prequel seems to just pile up. Just as you’re coming to terms with one thing, another revelation comes at you and you’re thrust deeper into a dramatic teen mystery setting. This isn’t entirely a bad thing, and it may very well be because this game is only three episodes as opposed to five, but it just seems really badly to want to make you sad.
And it does it quite well, frustratingly. It manages to build relationships and set up characters in a way that will make you invested and then heartbroken when something bad inevitably happens. Nowhere is this more prevalent than the very premise of the game. Players of the original Life Is Strange will know all about Chloe and Rachel, and what happens to them. Or, potentially happens, as the case may be. And the game revels in that, wanting to point out at every possible opportunity how tragic it is, and also foreshadows the events of the original in ways that manage to tug at the heartstrings. And I fell for it every time, because I was invested. I was having fun.
The game also has a Deluxe edition which provides a mixtape mode to enjoy the beautifully crafted soundtrack as well as a few extra outfits for Chloe, as well as the bonus episode ‘Farewell’. Which is even more of a kick in the guts than the main game.
There are a few plot holes that dedicated fans might notice, and people may not be interested in all the drama, but for anyone that wants a good mystery, characters with real depth, and choices that do actually have some impact on how the game plays out, Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is absolutely worth a look and a worthy entry into the Life Is Strange series.
Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is out now for PS4, PC and Xbox One.