Title: Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Developer: Deck Nine
Publisher: Square Enix
Available On: PlayStation 4, PC, Xbox One
Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s second episode “Brave New World” improves on little since the first episode “Awake”, as gameplay and narrative still feel at odds with each other. Instead of building from the first episode and laying the necessary groundwork for the final one, “Brave New World” keeps Chloe and Rachel away from each other for the bulk of the episode and does little to progress their story. This was an interesting choice given that the foundation of Before the Storm seemed like it was built on Chloe’s grief, along with her newfound relationship with Rachel and their desire to run away together.
“Brave New World” doesn’t show us anything new about our main characters, or elude to Rachel Amber’s untimely end, which was a sub-focus in Life is Strange. Instead, we are left muddling through an episode that consistently shifts tone and direction without adding any additional depth to the narrative.
“Brave New World” picks up the morning after “Awake”, and we find that Chloe and Rachel have landed themselves in Principal Wells’ office for reasons that are unrelated to what transpired at the end of the last episode. Chloe is in hot water at Blackwell Academy, both academically and behaviorally, and it’s more or less implied that she’s dragging Perfect Rachel Amber down with her.
The tension in the office is palpable as Chloe and Rachel sit next to each other with their parents standing behind them, disappointed. The conversation escalates quickly, and because of the intimidating setting (or perhaps because Chloe is teetering the brink of expulsion), even the simple narrative options feel like they carry a significant amount of weight.
“Brave New World” leaves the player with narrative choices that range from lying, to telling the truth, to telling Principal Wells what you really think of him (hint: it’s not good). But in turn, Chloe’s responses can range from sarcastic, to angry, to sympathetic, all in the span of a couple of a couple of minutes; and although these responses are a solid testament to different aspects of her character, the order in which they appear in the conversation and the manner in which they’re delivered ends up stunting the flow of dialogue and makes what should have been an impactful scene turn out pretty clunky.
The “Back Talk” mechanic was (thankfully) far less present in this episode than it was in the previous one, due to the lack of situations where it would be necessary. Chloe spends a fair amount of time by herself in “Brave New World”, but even when she doesn’t, there are no authoritative or oppressive figures around with whom she feels the need to be verbally aggressive.
How do you know which way is up when your whole life has been turned upside down?
Similar to “Awake”, “Brave New World” excels in its quieter moments where we’re allowed to appreciate the various locations around Arcadia Bay and the excellent soundtrack. After Chloe has a tense exchange with her mother, Joyce, and Joyce’s boyfriend, David, there’s an emotional weight that is seen through a series of text messages and journal entries, and the narrative is allowed to breathe without cutscenes, dialogue, or even without direct player interference. It’s great to just sit and sift through everything that Chloe is unable (or unwilling) to say aloud. Those moments tell a story that’s equally (if not more) powerful than when she’s actually conversing with other people.
Seeing more of Blackwell Academy added a nice touch of nostalgia to this episode, reminiscent of Max’s time at the school during Life is Strange. Although Chloe’s expelled, she returns to the school grounds on a mission and faces a big decision that has steep consequences. It’s moments like these where the impact of your decision hits hard, and where you feel the story elements leading up to that specific choice were well-executied. I honestly sat there a moment debating what to do as the dramatic music all but pressured me into making a decision quickly. It was the first time since the end of episode 5 of Life is Strange that I’d contemplated a decision so long and so deeply.
Later in the episode, Chloe also becomes inadvertently involved with Rachel’s play. While this moment was fairly humorous, for the most part, it does little to use Before the Storm’s time effectively. Even if you take this episode slowly, from beginning to end it still clocks in at around three hours. In that time, Chloe and Rachel shared the screen for maybe ten or fifteen minutes, and it was just a lot of re-hashing their original plan to get out of Arcadia Bay, without really taking the necessary steps to put that into motion. There’s only one episode left, and I’m still trying to figure out how all of these pieces are going to fall into place, especially given that cliffhanger…
In Life is Strange, despite the fact Rachel Amber didn’t have any time on the screen, she became an important character in her own right, with a looming mystery that surrounded what ultimately became her tragic storyline. One thing was clear, though, from the main game: fans had taken a keen interest in Rachel and had a desire to learn more about her before her death and the events that led to it. Before the Storm heavily relies on the enigma that Rachel was in Life is Strange, but still manages to develop her character well through tense family dinners and her love for acting.
Similarly, Chloe’s personality in Before the Storm is merging perfectly with who we know her to be in the main Life is Strange game. Her angst is spot-on, but so is her creativity, sense of humor, and sense of loneliness. The only problem is, Chloe and Rachel are becoming well-rounded characters in their own right, but together there’s something about their storylines and character motivations that refuse to mesh to create a cohesive story that moves this episode forward.
Before the Storm, I’m finding, is difficult to describe when something in the episodes aren’t “working”. It has all of the elements that made Life is Strange an excellent game- the atmosphere, the music, and the choice-based narrative, but in many moments in Life is Strange: Before the Storm, these elements are working well individually and not together like they should be doing.
Chloe was important enough to have her own story explored, but the deeper we go into this prequel, the more I’m left wondering if Before the Storm was really necessary. I’m looking forward to episode three, but I’m hoping the seemingly endless meandering is left in “Brave New World.”
Life is Strange: Before the Storm
- Chloe and Rachel's separate character development.
- The quiet moments without conversation or choice are the most beautiful.
- The music is as spot-on as ever.
- Exploring more of Arcadia Bay is nostalgic.
- Narrative choices are clunky at times.
- This episode meanders more than puts us on track for episode 3.
- Chloe and Rachel's storylines struggle to mesh together.