Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a prequel to 2015’s Life is Strange, a point-and-click adventure / interactive movie where a high school student named Max found that she could move through time. Before the Storm takes place three years prior to the events depicted in Life is Strange, during a time when Max was in Seattle and her best friend Chloe was on her own following the death of her father. The game then follows Chloe as she meets and befriends Rachel Amber, the most popular girl in school — and who you might remember as the missing girl from the first game.
Before the Storm doesn’t have a significant mystery like in Life is Strange, and there isn’t any time travelling. It’s just about two high school girls connecting to each other in a semi-romantic way, in an idealized fantasy world where nobody disapproves of their relationship (and the “mean girls” from the first game are all but non-existent). Chloe was my least favorite non-villain character in Life is Strange. She just seemed to exist to get Max into trouble, and to have terrible things happen to her so Max would have a reason to go back in time. So the premise didn’t excite me in any great way, but luckily the writing is good enough that I grew attached to the characters anyway, and cared what happened to them.
The engine for Before the Storm is almost identical to the one from Life is Strange. You move Chloe around using the WASD keys. You interact with hotspots by moving Chloe close to them and then using the left mouse button and the WASD keys to choose an action (like “look” or “open”). And you use the right mouse button to see your current objective (Chloe conveniently writes it on her hand). There aren’t any action sequences, but there is some timed dialogue to deal with when you’re in “backtalk mode,” where Chloe has to negotiate a conversation in the right way to get what she wants.
Also like Life is Strange, Before the Storm only has minimal puzzles. There are a few places where you have to find something and then use it in some way, but these sequences only have maybe a dozen hotspots each, so there’s almost no way to get lost or confused. The only time I had any trouble in the game — when trying to figure out the code for a lock — the game simply told me the right answer after I had guessed wrong a few times.
The only tough part of the game is trying to find everything that Chloe can “tag” — that is, where she can draw a picture or scribble something down using her sharpie. In the first game, Max took pictures, and in this game it’s more about graffiti. In my view the graffiti works better because you’re usually given a couple of options for what to do, and the result is usually amusing. For example, at one point you see a poster advertising a play, and you can either add devil horns to Nathan Prescott (one of the villains from the first game) or a halo over Rachel Amber.
Some parts of the game work well, but some don’t. You see lots of foreshadowing while you’re playing (like Nathan acting creepy a couple of times), and you learn how certain things came to be (like why Chloe has blue hair in the first game, and how Frank the drug dealer came to have a dog named Pompidou), and these scenes are effective. But other parts of the game seem like they were rushed or truncated, and your decisions often have minimal effect. As an example, in the final episode one character suddenly goes through a 180-degree personality shift, and the scene is so jarring that even now I’m not sure if it was a dream sequence or not. All the scene did was suddenly move the game to its ending in an unfulfilling way. And it’s possible the most meaningful decision I made while playing was what to have Chloe wear each day.
Still, the writing is good enough, and the dialogue is acted well enough (especially by Rhianna DeVries as Chloe), that Before the Storm is a worthwhile experience. As an adult male, I’m probably about as far away from the game’s target demographic as one can get, and yet I still enjoyed it more than I didn’t. So if you were a fan of the first game and you want to learn more about its world and its characters, then you should definitely check out Before the Storm. But if you haven’t played Life is Strange yet, then I’d recommend you try that game first and then proceed from there.
Reviewed By: Steven Carter
Publisher: Square Enix
This review is based on a digital copy of Life is Strange: Before the Storm for the PC provided by Square Enix.