Release date: August 31st, 2017
Platforms: Xbox One (Reviewed) PS4, PC
After it captured the hearts of the masses back in 2015, Life is Strange came to be known as one of the best examples of emotional and captivating storytelling in modern gaming. The game brought many complex social issues to the forefront of its narrative, including morality, sexuality, drug use, juvenile delinquency, time travel, teenage rebellion, depression, suicide, and a huge list of others, and presented them all in a way that made the player face hard decisions and deal with the repercussions of their actions. The game quickly shot to the top of most journalistic “Game of the Year” lists and started a bit of a social phenomenon in that year, and it was all well-deserved, as most people who have played the game will attest.
Earlier in 2017, much to the pleasure and shock of fans around the world, it was announced at E3 that the world of Life is Strange would continue later in the year with the first installment of the prequel game, titled Before the Storm. This 3-episode game would follow the earlier life of one of the main protagonists of Life is Strange, Chloe Price, and explore her relationships with her family, friends, and most importantly, show the dynamics of the relationship between Chloe and the “missing girl” who was a major plot point in the first game, Rachel Amber.
Before the Storm uses the same game engine as the original game, but adds many new elements into the fold, making BTS have a unique feel compared to the original game, so it isn’t just some new story inserted straight into the old game engine, though the look and feel will be largely familiar to those who played the original (not a bad thing.)
One of the most major new additions is a new element to conversations that happen between you and others in the game. Cleverly utilizing the boisterous and sometimes difficult personality that Chloe is so well-known for, BTS adds a sort of “mini-game” that allows her to win her way in or out of certain situations by using quick wit and insults towards others by having to make the right dialogue choices within a time limit to accomplish your objective and affect the outcome of the story.
This ties in with another one of the biggest changes in the gameplay and story, in that Chloe is obviously lacking a certain special ability that the original main protagonist of Life is Strange possessed, and that is the ability to control time and go back to change certain actions or events from the way they happened. In this case, Chloe (and the player) have to live with the decisions and actions they take within the game, and do not have the ability to “re-think” or “re-do” these actions and must deal with the consequences accordingly. This is a huge strength to the game, especially to those who may have thought the “impact” or “weight” of certain situations in the original LIS were lessened by this ability.
Just like in the original LIS, the game has hundreds of different actions and conversations layered in every scene, giving you tons to explore and plenty of people and places to see, including many characters from LIS, but here, you get to see them a few years before their appearance and circumstances in the original game.
And of course, the main draw of the game for anyone who is likely to play is the story, and this story delivers far more than I had originally thought it might, fleshing out tons of intimate details and nuances of the early relationships between Chloe and tons of other characters from Arcadia Bay, and especially with the mysterious Rachel Amber.
Before the Storm manages to hit more emotional and heart-breaking moments in just the first episode than the original LIS did in its first episode. It’s a roller-coaster ride showing the life of a troubled girl with a broken family and a hope to make something better of her life, and the way it fills in some of the major mysteries and gaps from the original story is brilliant.
It also keeps to a great pace, keeping more mystery unfolding as previous mysteries become elaborated on, and still has a ton of references and mood similarities to things like Twin Peaks, which bring you back to the world of Arcadia Bay with fresh eyes and ears, and it feels like coming “home” to a place that’s familiar, and yet, you’re constantly learning new things about. There’s a few big surprises toward the end of the episode and it leaves off similarly to the episodes from LIS, with you wanting so much more by the end, which will be delivered later this year.
I can easily say that anyone who enjoyed the original LIS will not want to pass up Before the Storm, and if the developers can manage to make the other two episodes as good as the first one, this may very well be another Game of the Year contender for many. Do yourself a favor and check this out if you’ve played the original, and if you haven’t played the original yet, then I’d suggest putting it on a priority list for yourself if you like rich narrative experiences in your video games or enjoy things like the TellTale Games series.