Title: Life is Strange: Before the Storm (Episode One)
Platform: PC, Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed)
Developer: Deck Nine
Publisher: Square Enix Holdings
Release date: Out now, with further episodes to come.
tl;dr: All aboard the “this game is going to wreck me,” train.
Price: Please note these are the prices for the regular bundled edition:
PS4 – £14/$17
PC – £14/$17
Xbox One – £14/$17
Family Focus: Click here for more information.
The original Life is Strange blindsided all of us, rocking up as a fresh new IP out of nowhere and emotionally destroying us all in the process. Now we have a prequel revolving around chaos incarnate, Chloe Price, and her sad, short life, which includes the enigmatic Rachel Amber this time around.
We all know how it ends.
Chloe Price is not a happy girl. Still reeling from the death of her beloved father two years back, her mother’s subsequent remarriage to an absolute asshole, and her best friend abandoning her, she’s got her hand slammed on the “self destruct,” button, which is a trend we’ve already seen rear its ugly head. She’s a perspective we haven’t seen before, and it’s heartbreakingly lonely. Chloe’s not quite the hardened, bitter 19 year old yet, so we’re left with the confused and alone 16 year old whose entire life has been ripped out from underneath her. While the gameplay hasn’t changed much, it feels like a fresh narrative voice straight off the bat.
Going back in time not only gives us a look at a younger version of the main cast (like Nathan and Victoria, albeit briefly), it also finally allows us access to the glorified and hero worshipped Rachel Amber, who’s – y’know, not buried in the junkyard yet. And I’ll call it now – I don’t trust her one bit. Her picking up and dropping Chloe without any regard for her feelings, the weirdly accurate truth and lies game, and her whole vibe feels wrong. Remember this is the girl that was willingly sleeping with a drug dealer, possibly cheating on Chloe in the process, and was so wonderful, yet had no one looking for her when she went missing. It’s really frustrating to see how much the incredibly vulnerable Chloe falls head over heels for her without warning, even if her blatantly obvious crush is very cute.
The most notable new gameplay feature is “Backtalk,” where Chloe gets into a verbal punch up, and has to pass two speech checks, and then a finisher, to worm her way out of situations. They’re hilariously damning, and you can see some of 19 year old Chloe bleeding through in Rhianna DeVries’ performance. Speaking of which (and if you haven’t heard about the voice actors’ strike, there’s a long rabbit hole for you to go down) I think Rhianna does a damn good job for the most part. Some of the delivery is a little stilted in places, but the dialogue generally feels less horrifically cringey (“Go fuck your selfie,” anyone?) and definitely sounds like a younger, less sure of herself Chloe.
The frustrating thing about Backtalk is that the timer counts down very quickly, so you don’t always get to read what wickedly barbed insults you want to throw, and because of the lack of manual saving, if you screw up, you’re relegated back to the last checkpoint. Overall, the remarks it gives out are wonderfully on point, and it’s a great feature that only needs a little bit of tweaking.
As you can see on the right of that screenshot, instead of taking photos, you can doodle graffiti on things, which is a cute touch. Graphically, though… I fully get that Life is Strange is supposed to have an almost watercolour feel to it, but this only really works on the landscapes. Chloe looks far better animated than anyone else, but she still suffers with the plastic-y textures, lack of lip sync, and awkward silent moments as the audio syncs up. Stylistic choices or not, we all know current gen could do better, and I really think this game deserves that.
The biggest criticism I can give Episode One, I think, is pace. It’s setting the scene, which is great, and it’s throwing us into situations we definitely wouldn’t see the shy and awkward Max Cauldfield put herself in, although to tell the truth, seeing Max trying to sneak into a gig might be unintentionally hilarious. You’ve also got extra perspectives on Chloe’s interactions with people – they react very differently to her than they did to Max, and that’s interesting – for a while. Until Rachel shows up and starts dragging Chloe around, the narrative doesn’t really pick up. It’s not a dealbreaker, but I hope this trend doesn’t stick around for the next two episodes.
Before the Storm is fleshing out its side characters, which I love, but can we talk about David for a second because holy shit is he an awful guy. Common opinion seems to be he’s trying too hard, or he’s a terrible person, and BTS has done nothing to alleviate this opinion. “You’ve had too long a vacation from a father figure?” Uh, yes, David, because her actual father died horribly in a car crash and no one is notice Chloe breaking apart. I’m also really starting to dislike Joyce, because she sure as hell doesn’t seem to be listening to her daughter’s quite valid concerns.
Then there’s Rachel, “Little Miss Perfect,” who seems to swoop into Chloe’s life like a guardian angel. There’s something about her I don’t quite like, and I’m most likely going to be proved right. Their relationship feels a little rushed, but coming off the back of the other Chloe game, maybe I’m a little biased, and in all honesty, it makes sense for poor, abandoned Chloe to latch on to the first person showing her any sort of affection. She manipulates and toys with Chloe’s feelings, and then there’s that ending, which I’m not going to spoil, because accompanied by Daughters’ gorgeous soundtrack, it’s one you’ll want to see unspoiled. Yeah, alarms going off for Rachel Amber, so buckle in, folks – a storm’s coming.
- Chloe is breaking my heart
- Gorgeous soundtrack
- A thoughtful, emotional plot
- Controls feel very sensitive and the camera swings about a lot
- Honestly looks very visually inferior
- First episode’s pace was horribly slow. Apart from the hellishly terrifying dream sequences.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is rated PEGI 16/ESRB Rating M, for sexual themes, strong language, drugs, alcohol, and violence. Chloe Price really isn’t a role model…
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy of the game purchased for for the purposes of this review.