‘Life is Strange’ prequel defies worried expectations

Screenshot via GameNewsOfficial on YouTube

Screenshot via GameNewsOfficial on YouTube

‘Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1’ video game review

By Lauren Kelly, Contributor

 

5/5

Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a prequel for 2015’s game Life is Strange, which is also getting a sequel with a new cast. All three are episodic, and the first episode for Before the Storm was released on August 31. Instead of playing as Life is Strange protagonist Max, in Before the Storm the player controls her best friend Chloe—three years before Max returns to Arcadia Bay. The game focuses on Chloe’s relationship with Rachel Amber, who had gone missing during the first game. This review will have light spoilers for the original in regard to Chloe’s past.

While most fans of the games were excited for both announcements, Before the Storm came with one big caveat: It was being created by Deck Nine, a different team than Dontnod, the makers of the original Life is Strange. People were understandably nervous—was this just a cheap attempt to cash in on the love Life is Strange had received? Expectations were further lowered by the fact that the current voice actor strike meant that the actors from the previous game were not reprising their roles, most significantly in the case of Chloe’s voice actor, Ashly Burch, whose performance was flawless and incredibly affecting.

However, Deck Nine proved that not only could they make a passable prequel for the beloved game, they could create something on par with, and sometimes better than, the original.

During Life is Strange, we learn about how difficult the five-year gap between Max leaving and returning to Arcadia Bay was for Chloe, but seeing it first hand is devastating. At 16, Chloe is struggling to deal with the loss of her best friend, who no longer calls or texts her, as well as with the loss of her father and the addition her mom’s new boyfriend who wants to get Chloe in line. This is too much pain to take, and she begins to rebel to mask her suffering, skipping school, smoking pot, and back-talking everyone. Then she meets Rachel Amber.

In Life is Strange, Chloe describes the missing Rachel as her angel, who saved her life when Max was gone. Each other character we speak to as Max has a strong impression of Rachel, with most of them worshipping her. It must have been difficult to take this larger-than-life character and make her believable, but to me Before the Storm manages to succeed. Rachel is a whirlwind who sweeps both Chloe and the player up into her world. It’s understandable why Chloe is so smitten with her, and their relationship feels exciting to experience.

The game looks and sounds amazing. While the first was a visual treat with a unique style that made the most of its limitations, early episodes were plagued with poor lip-syncing and sometimes static facial animation. In Before the Storm, the characters’ faces convey emotion in a way that the first one could not achieve. This is most noticeable with Chloe, whose feelings of embarrassment, nervousness, anger, and sadness are all transparently shown through realistic facial expressions and microexpressions.

For all the prior worry about Chloe’s voice actor, Rhianna DeVries proves to be stellar. There are some scenes that you can tell are recorded earlier, and she hasn’t really nailed Chloe’s voice yet, but once she does she just sounds like a younger Chloe. DeVries deserves commendation for her work here, as it is what makes Before the Storm as effective as it is.

Additionally, Before the Storm’s soundtrack is fantastic. The first game was well known for its expert use of commercial music, and this one does the same. The band Daughter created the original soundtrack for Before the Storm, and their songs match wonderfully with the mood of each scene. As Chloe and Max are incredibly different, and the tones of the games are as well, the music in this reflects those differences.

Where Before the Storm innovates is with the new Backtalk mechanic. In the original, the player could rewind decisions and events, creating a unique level of indecision and ownership in a genre popularized by Telltale Games’ split-second choices. However, that was Max’s power, not Chloe’s. Her power is her quick wit and assertive personality, highlighted with these new segments. In them, the player goes toe-to-toe with opponents in arguments, choosing the best comebacks to beat the other person. These sections are fun and relatively intuitive, and they give Chloe’s personality a chance to shine.

The game has a few missteps, but they are small and far between. At Blackwell Academy, we see many familiar faces from the first game, but a few of them don’t make sense, either due to age or what we already know about them. Also, a few of the voice actors are jarringly different from their previous ones, which took me out of the game a bit. Still, with everything that could have gone wrong with this game, these slip-ups seem inconsequential.

If you are a fan of Life is Strange, Before the Storm is a must-buy. The Deluxe Edition comes with the three episodes, bonus outfits for Chloe, and an extra bonus episode called “Farewell,” which is about Max leaving Arcadia Bay, and I think the extra content makes it worth it to snatch this one up. Even if you’ve never played the first game, Before the Storm stands on its own, and playing it first would just make the original all the more devastating.

 

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The Other Press, Douglas College's student newspaper since 1976. Articles, insight and updates from the New West and Coquitlam campuses.

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