Oh, boy, has it been a long time since I’ve talked about video games on here. In fact, I’ve just now realised that the last time I made a gaming-specific post on this blog was in April 2017. I truly have been slacking.
So let me tell you about the game I have managed to find time for lately: Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Here’s my spoiler-free review.
Before the Storm is a prequel to the original Life is Strange, which is a narrative-driven episodic game about a teenage girl and photography enthusiast called Max who discovers she has the ability to reverse time. During the game, we see her deal with issues including bullying, suicide, drugs, a sinister clique, and even the mysterious disappearance of a fellow student. The original game is well-known for its cinematic, episodic style, its emotional intensity (I’ll admit it, I cried), and for its attention to a set of themes that are uncommon in video games, and highly relevant to real life.
In the original game, one of the plot points is Max’s reunion with her rebellious and estranged best friend Chloe. In Max’s absence, Chloe grew close to a girl named Rachel Amber, who at the start of the original game, we learn has recently gone missing.
In the prequel, its this relationship between Chloe and Rachel, before Max’s return to Arcadia Bay, which is the focus of the game.
In Before the Storm, we play as Chloe, starting from the day her life collides with that of high-achieving, popular drama student, Rachel Amber. We gain an insight into the relationship between the pair, exploring each of their characters and learning more about their inner workings, from Rachel’s relationship with her family, to Chloe’s grief after the loss of her father. The game explores a set of different but similar themes to the original, focusing on family, grief, romance, and addiction, and follows the same format of cinematic gameplay that allows players to decide how to navigate the story.
Rachel Amber is a clever addition to the game. Rachel is a mysterious and alluring character we learnt little about in the previous game, and the prequel really brings her to life, showing the rich complexity and damage that even a seemingly perfect character possesses. Rachel and Chloe pair have perfect chemistry, and bring new meaning to each other’s characters in unexpected ways, and their relationship is exhilarating and meaningful, all at once.I would have loved to have been able to spend more time exploring the relationship between these two characters, which is nuanced and heartfelt in the way that really sticks with you.
The biggest difference difference this game and the original is the loss of the time-travel ability. As Chloe, players instead have a “backtalk” ability, which they use to choose attitude-infused dialogue options to cut down Chloe’s opponents and get her way.
While this is an interesting idea, I personally don’t think it matches up to the time travel ability. The best thing about the first game was how long you could spend deliberating over decisions and reversing time to change your mind. I spent the whole game second guessing my choices, and while there’s still an element of this since there are plenty of dialogue choices to be made, I definitely felt the loss of the time travel mechanic.
The themes of this game are really interesting and differ from the original enough to feel like they’re bringing something new to the table. In terms of story and themes, this is a really surprising, intelligent game, and you can tell that a lot of time and consideration has gone into creating a story and characters that you can’t help but feel invested in. The explorations of grief, addiction, and the characters’ dreams of escaping make this game thought-provoking and moving, and it benefits from a fantastic soundtrack that matches these ideas.
The game also has a number of fun quirks that brought a smile to my face. I love the scenes in which Chloe shows her geeky side by playing a tabletop role-playing game (similar to Dungeons and Dragons) with her friends, since this shows a completely different, enthusiastic, vulnerable, and playful side to her character. There is also a scene which revolves around the school performance of The Tempest, which I found really unique, heartfelt and uplifting.
Another thing the prequel does really well is the conclusion. This is one of the most emotional segments of the game, and rewards players with an increase in pace and a raise of the stakes. While my main complaint about the game is that it feels maybe a little too slow at times and could do with more dramatic scenes and major choices, the ending serves up a powerful helping of drama, angst, and bittersweet feelings, with some truly painful choices to be made.
Overall, this is a great game with a story worthy of a young adult novel. If the pace had increased a little, and the game had included more big choices and dramatic, moving moments, this could have been another five-star game for me. As it stands, this game is fun and easy to play, with an emotional and gripping story. I would absolutely recommend it to fans of the original game, as it does a great job of enriching the story and characters. This isn’t a prequel made for the sake of capitalising on a previous game: it’s a game made because there are new themes to explore, relationships to develop, and a story to tell.