Title: Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode Three
Platform: PC (Steam), Xbox One, PS4 (reviewed)
Developer: Deck Nine
Publisher: Square Enix, Square Enix Holdings
TL;DR: A disappointing finale
Release Date: Out now
Price: Please note these are the prices for the regular bundled edition:
PS4 – £14/$17
PC – £14/$17
Xbox One – £14/$17
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It’s the finale for the Life is Strange prequel, where events have come to a head, and a rather disappointing conclusion. If you’d like to see the reviews of the previous episodes, they’re here and here.
Shit is going down in Arcadia Bay. Rachel Amber has barrelled into Chloe’s life and is spinning them both out of control. There’s a massive wildfire ravaging the town, and Arcadia Bay’s DA seems to be pulling some seriously shady strings behind the scenes. The pace of the previous two episodes seemed to be rising into a heartbreaking crescendo, and the final one seemed to be no different. Unfortunately, this one dropped the ball, big time.
Episode three only really presents us with one major gameplay choice, and a handful of minor ones that have very little impact, aside from maybe appearing in the ending montage. It feels like a massive step back from episodes one and two, which each had four major choices, and 10+ minor choices to make. Thanks to this, it feels a lot shorter, and has less of an impact; despite my issues with episode two being slightly too long, it used the time it had far better. There also seems to be a graphical downgrade; the lip sync is poor, and the character models look stiff and low poly, like something you’d find on a late PS2 game. Even Chloe isn’t immune to it, and it can’t all be chalked up to art style, this time; I’d like to hope that when we finally get season two of Life is Strange, there’s at least an upgrade to the faces.
There‘s also a lot of weird scenes and transitions which are reminiscent of the first game’s finale, which, due to budget and time constraints, lead to stripped down scenes instead of full blown voiced cutscenes. Instead of showing the full scene, animations will play out on a black background, or characters will be in place with cutscenes, but there won’t be any audio. This is a bit of a double edged sword; it’s either fantastic, or a failure. This episode’s nightmare sequence, for example, reuses all the assets from previous episodes, but uses the minimalism to its advantage, to create atmosphere. But the scene with Sera and Chloe in the barn completely falls flat, cutting straight from the fight to the two of them talking; it certainly feels like a dream sequence, since it’s so poorly implemented, but instead, it just makes no sense.
The second half of the episode swiftly devolves into a mess of storytelling that, combined with the weird minimalist scenes, don’t make a whole lot of sense. It starts off believably enough, but after Chloe leaves the hospital, stuff begins to get weird. Again, this isn’t the same as season one’s nightmare sequence throughout its final episode, because it was meant to be bizarre and frightening. Before the Storm opts for confusing and riddled with plot holes that either go unexplained, or don’t make sense at all.
The next few paragraphs will briefly discuss necessary story spoilers.
Elliot’s scene in the office is the worst offender, because it comes completely out of left field. If you compare him to Nathan – who has known mental health problems and one hell of a temper – I could buy him being a stalker and threatening Chloe. Elliot, on the other hand, is apparently close to Chloe, and the worst thing we’ve seen him do so far is write some weird poetry in a private notebook. Now he’s following her around and devolving into the most blatant Nice Guy rant I’ve ever seen. Plus the scene in the office should have had some sort of ramifications, but it’s never brought up again.
The aforementioned scene in the mill feels cheap; Damon is dealt with very quickly offscreen, and there’s plenty of time for Chloe to have a philosophical chat with Sera. The final choice – tell Rachel her dad is a maniac, or lie and keep it under wraps so she has a fake happy family – doesn’t add up either. The correct choice is apparently to lie, yet Rachel has said multiple times that Chloe’s the only one she can trust. Lying to your sort of girlfriend probably isn’t the best way to start a relationship. Plus the music during this scene (as I told Rachel the truth) was cut really weirdly. Flaws began to play, stopped when her parents left the room, and started again when Mr Amber appeared. It could have been done incredibly effectively if the guitars had kicked in if the full track had been played, timing it perfectly, but instead we get an awkward stop/start for the remainder of the montage.
Before the Storm’s main problem is that it has too much to cover in too short a space of time, and this is exactly what happens here. A lot of plot points are completely dropped (the fire, Chloe and Rachel’s plan to leave), and a lot of things don’t lead into the main game as they should. If you lie to Rachel, and she meets her mother, what on earth starts her down the path of darkness to wind up involved with Frank and Jefferson? The girl who still has a happy family, with a 4.0 GPA, “Little Miss Perfect,” still winds up dead with not even her parents looking for her after six months.
Rachel’s characterisation is also all over the place. A lot of the earlier game, plus Elliot’s rant, seem to try and paint her as manipulative and using Chloe, and whilst I do subscribe to that train of thought, the game can’t decide what it wants. Chloe thinks Rachel is “her angel,” yet a lot of the covert narrative seems to be pushing the manipulative train. William flat out references the fire as a bewitching beauty you can’t look away from and will end up being overwhelmed by, and the raven/death imagery never seems to go away from Rachel. What we actually see, however, is at worst a selfish teenager, not some manipulative mastermind.
I wonder if the problem with Rachel is that the writers are reluctant to have her do anything bad, lest her perfection be tarnished. The original game did this very well; at the crux of it, Chloe and Max aren’t stellar, perfect people. They have flaws and they screw up – I’ve always said I love Chloe as a character, but not as a person. The result here is that Rachel is still an enigma, but an annoying one rather than intriguing. For example, are Rachel and Chloe actually a couple? We know from the first game they were somewhat estranged, and Rachel cheated on her with Frank, with some indication their romance was one sided on Chloe’s part, and if you look at the photo strip they take at the end of this game, they… aren’t giving off couple affection. Close, but not romantic vibes. The game has dodged around the “romance,” aspect with the potential kiss in episode two, and despite me picking that option, there’s no indication if it was genuine, or an act on Rachel’s part.
An easy way to remedy this – and the way I thought they were going – is to give us a scene that makes us question Rachel; maybe the way she treats Chloe, or some weird messages on her phone to other romantic interests, or have her say something that makes her true motives a little clearer. It would also be a neat set up for Chloe if it’s established she’ll cling to people even if she doubts them, because she’s that damn lonely. If you combine that with a fleshed out ending, it would be a much more satisfying conclusion. Maybe Sera dies from the overdose, and that sends Rachel spiralling if you tell her the truth, or she runs away to try and find her mother if you lie, and gets caught up in a bad crowd on the road. Have her anger at her father spiral over into real life, and show a scene of her going to Frank’s RV to score some drugs, to set up their relationship – anything to make it coherent and establish who Rachel actually is.
Overall, this does wonders for Chloe’s character, and not a whole lot for Rachel’s. I’m eager to play Farewell (which by all accounts, is out mid-January), but Before the Storm could have had a much more satisfying, well told conclusion; it falls short at the final hurdle.
- DeVries voice acting gains strength every episode
- When it hits its mark, it’s very emotional
- The nightmare sequences were superbly done
- Finale is rushed and riddled with inconsistencies and plotholes
- Definite graphical downgrade for everyone
- Rachel’s characterisation is all over the shop. And they got the D&D rules wrong.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode Three is rated PEGI 16 and ESRB M for realistic violence, language, and drug use. And that epilogue scene definitely isn’t kid friendly.
Disclaimer: This review is based on a retail copy of the game purchased for the purposes of this review.