Games & Apps

Game Review: Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 – Smoke Before Fire

Photo courtesy of Square Enix 

Spoilers for the previous installment of Life is Strange follow:

Developer DONTNOD Entertainment captured perfectly the angst, indecision and drama of teenaged life with its original five episode narrative adventure Life is Strange – a mixture of coming of age story with a supernatural twist. Prequel and follow-up Life is Strange: Before the Storm episode 1 (now helmed by developer Deck Nine) removes the supernatural and focuses on angst and drama and dealing with problems as a 16 year old girl would – not by manipulating time, but by talking back.

Photo courtesy of Square Enix

Life is Strange: Before the Storm takes place 3 years before its predecessor and is Chloe Price’s story. With Chloe’s father’s death a not-too-distant memory and Max Caulfield recently gone to Seattle, Chloe finds herself feeling frustrated and trapped. Angry at the hand life has dealt, Chloe’s sadness and frustration has boiled over into full-blown anger. No longer taking any shit from anybody, play as Chloe as she starts her path into rebellion, and meets the popular and outwardly pristine Rachel Amber.

Photo courtesy of Square Enix

Rachel Amber’s disappearance was a major plot point in Life is Strange, with her character having a strong resemblance to Laura Palmer – just one of many nods to Twin Peaks in the Life is Strange series. So far Before the Storm invokes a Fire Walk With Me vibe – a shorter form prequel that follows the journey of a troubled girl that was only hinted at in the original. These similarities are only surface level, though. Life is Strange: Before the Storm begins with Chloe using her Talkback ability to get into a bar to see the band Firewalk.

Photo courtesy of Square Enix

While not exactly a superpower like Max Caulfield’s ability to rewind time, Talkback is practically a superpower. With it, Chloe uses her wit to convince characters to do things her way. During conversations while Talkback is initiated, you are given several dialogue options and you have a short time to choose a snarky or clever remark to win the day. Failure means failing the speech check and continuing on – there isn’t a way to rewind time anymore so you have to live with your decisions, making each choice more important.

Unfortunately, one aspect of Life is Strange that I most enjoyed is trying multiple scenarios and then undoing them. I thought I would be clever and reload a previous save to undo a decision, but I was unable to skip any dialogue or cutscenes, making my effort at save scumming torturous.  It’s unfortunate that they have made it so painful and unfun to explore different choices – but the short episode length lends itself to multiple playthroughs if you really want to explore different choices.

Photo courtesy of Square Enix

Life is Strange: Before the Storm unfortunately suffers from a lot of the same issues its predecessor had: stilted animation and merely okay to subpar voice acting. There was also a major shift in voice talent with a few of the characters being voiced by different actors. Most notably, the actress that portrayed Chloe Price has changed with Rhianna DeVries being the new voice.  DeVries seems to deliver every line with extra edge and sass, even mundane internal commentary, but she does a good job as Chloe and the change, while jarring initially, it is mostly forgotten by the end of the episode.

Photo courtesy of Square Enix

Despite its voice acting issues and sometimes strange animations, Life is Strange: Before the Storm is still a great story. Chloe manages to be a sympathetic character despite her sometimes frustrating tendency to makes things harder for herself. Often beautiful and poignant, episode one is a compelling beginning to this three-episode game. Life is Strange: Before the Storm episode 1 is available now on Windows, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

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