The first “Life Is Strange” was one of our favorite games of 2015 for good reason. Developer Dontnod capitalized on the Telltale adventure game genre in a way that revitalized a formula that was beginning to wear thin. Needless to say, I was very excited to learn a prequel, called “Before the Storm” was in development. The three-part series, developed by Deck Nine, may not break the mold nearly as much as the original game, but it has some genuinely beautiful moments that make it more than worth a play-through.
The biggest difference with this new “season” is that Max is nowhere to be seen. This isn’t a problem narratively, but Max’s ability is sorely missed. It was truly what set apart Life Is Strange from other adventure games. This story focuses on Chloe and her relationship with Rachel, which was alluded to in the original game. Chloe is still the angsty teen she became after her father’s death, and Rachel becomes her healthy outlet for her pain. Along the way, the pair get in trouble together, flirt like crazy, and dream of leaving their hometown for a better future.
Unfortunately, Before the Storm blows its wad before the finale and never quite reaches the magic of the first game. With that said, there are some genuinely touching moments between these two characters. There’s definitely a target demographic for this narrative, but the characters are written in such a way that makes their relationship status a bit vague. Were Chloe and Rachel in love or just the strongest of friends? We’ll never know, because the writers straddled the line between friendship and romance very delicately. Or perhaps that was just my particular story path based on my choices.
Again, the absence of Max’s “rewind” mechanic seems like a mistake. I understand it wouldn’t fit in this narrative, but that really was what made Life Is Strange so much fun to play. Instead, Chloe has her own novelty mechanic involving persuasion. As usual, you’ll have to choose different dialogue options to progress the story. This time around, however, you have to pay much closer attention. The other character’s words clue you in to select the response that will win them over. Failing these persuasion mini games won’t halt the story, but do affect your branching storyline.
Before the Storm simply isn’t nearly as enjoyable in between the cinematic set pieces. I get it: the truck in the junk yard is both Chloe’s metaphorical and actual escape vehicle, but repairing it isn’t very exciting at all. For the first time in quite a while, I was thankful that this story was only three episodes long.
It sounds like I’m being overly negative on Before the Storm, but there is a lot to like here. Some of the emotional moments between Chloe and Rachel are incredible. The music by U.K. folk band Daughter is particularly effective, as each selection feels tailor-made for their respective scenes. Even though the characters are animated, their interactions hit emotional highs that just work. To top it off, the story finishes on a high note with an after-credits tease that leads into “Life Is Strange”. It’s done in a way that won’t spoil the next chapter while still giving fans of the original a quick nod.
One difference that shockingly didn’t bother me as much as I expected was the voice cast. Because of SAG-AFTRA Strike in 2016, none of the original cast was present for this game. The new voice actors pulled of the familiar characters well enough. Still, I’m looking forward to the bonus episode coming in 2018 that has the voices from the first game.
“Life Is Strange: Before the Storm” Final Verdict
Before the Storm is a worthy title that doesn’t quite live up to the original. I fully admit that I only played through the story once, so my dissatisfaction with the story could be my own fault. Perhaps if I had made different choices along the way, I would have seen the writers jump in with both feet in terms of the girls’ relationship. But I didn’t feel compelled to play it a second time to see how else the story could have played out. That says something about the enjoyment of an adventure game. I wish I liked the gameplay more than I did, but I still recommend it from a narrative standpoint.
All three episodes of “Life Is Strange: Before the Storm” are available for Microsoft Windows, PS4, and Xbox One. This review is based on a purchased copy of the game on PS4.