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Review: Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode One (Xbox One)

Adventure Review
8.5

Great

The original Life is Strange was a time-bending episodic adventure full of suspense, mystery and human struggle. It was a simple experience with only some light puzzles and a focus on exploration, but it pulled you in almost immediately once you play the first episode. There was a magic that the game captured, a distinctly human element that was both relatable and heart-wrenching. Max Caulfield was a paragon of innocence who was thrown into an impossible situation with supernatural connotations while also dealing with her interpersonal relationships.

What we would probably call the co-star, Chloe Price was the other main focus of Life is Strange and she was quite the colourful character. She had teenage angst that would make even the edgiest of our teenage selves hide their Hybrid Theory albums and she has a profound hate for authority and clean walls. Chloe was incredibly complex and you learned of her tragic history throughout the course of the game. However, many of the intricate details of her past were left obfuscated and reduced to a bit of exposition as you interact with her. The specifics of her story is what you will experience in Life is Strange: Before the Storm. A Chloe origin story, if you will.

Just be warned, there will be some very slight spoilers of the original Life is Strange in the review, but there will be no spoilers of Before the Storm.

Return to Arcadia Bay

The first episode, Awake, puts us right into the shoes of a sixteen-year-old Chloe just as she is starting to deal with her father’s tragic death and the fallout from her life essentially collapsing. Her rebellious nature is on full display and she revels in standing up to authority and being as disruptive as she can. She’s callous, she’s straight and she’s edgier than a recently sharpened bowie knife. However, Chloe has a deep hurt inside her, she’s alienated and she is begging for any sort of revelation to put her life back on some kind of track.

The story captures you early and it keeps your heart in a vice throughout all of it.

She meets Rachel Amber, the mysterious honour student that is loved by all but has her own demons within her. The main focus of the first episode is the interaction between these two characters and it was framed very intelligently. While on this adventure, we also get insight into Chloe’s interpersonal struggles through some key moments and internal monologues. You start to understand Chloe and her motivations more through all her interactions and the character building is wonderful considering that this was an already established character from the previous game.

Obviously, without revealing anything that happens within the episode, the story captures you early and it keeps your heart in a vice throughout all of it. It’s poignant, it’s enriching and it’s somehow also extremely relatable. Also, the story is drenched in symbolism that is often so apparent that it can be seen as overt. It retains a lot of what made Life is Strange so special and you’ll most likely find yourself laughing or on the verge of tears. Even outside of everything, the story is well worth the investment.

Life is strange, again

Before the Storm operates almost exactly the same as the original. The game is mostly composed of walking around and interacting with objects and people in your environment in order to gain more context. The choices also still have very real consequences and they’ll fundamentally change your outcomes and interactions so strongly that you’ll feel compelled to replay the episode again to experience different paths. Also, because Chloe doesn’t have time-bending powers, all of your choices are immediately permanent.

That is possibly one of the most major changes in Before the Storm, since Chloe cannot use the power of polaroids in order to bend the fabric of time. All she has at her disposal is her quick wit and her propensity for insults. You have the ability to Backtalk, where Chloe enters a sort of duel of words with a person. It’s almost like a rap battle, where you have to exploit what a person told you and turn it into the most clever retort that you can. You get a selection of three possible retorts after a person has said something as well as a timer, and if you pick the correct ones in time, you win the argument. If you fumble, your opponent can also win rounds and you can lose the argument.

It’s almost like Insult Sword Fighting from Monkey Island, but with a lot more cuss words and tearing down of a person’s soul. Chloe can get brutal and the people she argues against are not far from that themselves. It’s a lot less exciting than bending time and space, but it gives a unique dynamic to Chloe’s character. Backtalking is what she is good at and she’s not afraid to flaunt it. It’s not a revolutionary mechanic and it’s pretty easy if you’re sharp. Through the entire episode, I didn’t get a single strike against me and Chloe was this insulting powerhouse just from me paying attention to what my opponent says and picking accordingly.

Chloe can get brutal and the people she argues against are not far from that themselves.

The rest of the game is essentially the “walking simulator” that we know where you go around and rummage through people’s stuff and have Chloe comment on it. Many of the environments have been recycled from Life is Strange and if you played the game, there will be a sense of familiarity from all of the old stomping grounds. This can easily be misconstrued as laziness, but I’d prefer to think that it gives the area of Arcadia Bay its own identity. Also, instead of taking optional photographs, you can now doodle amusing stuff on walls. I would have liked to say that I would have wanted something more unique, but this is what the Life is Strange franchise is good at and to stray too far from that vision would either be detrimental or not really welcome.

I also have to give major props to the soundtrack. You have your relaxing post-rock and indie tunes as well as harsher stuff to fit Chloe’s punk aesthetic. It all fits so beautifully and perfectly into the events that transpire that I’d even say that a lion’s share of the impact is tied to just the music.

Crawling in my skin

If there is a criticism that can be made of Before the Storm, it’s that it still suffers from that strange awkwardness that we also experienced in Life is Strange. Chloe’s angst becomes a little overbearing and sometimes cartoonish and the dialogue between some characters can be accurately described as “cringe-worthy”. The writing suffered a bit in places and some definite improvements could have been made in the script writing in particular. The voice cast did an admirable job, delivering some punchy lines, but the aforementioned awkward writing stifled that a little.

This was only the first episode in the prequel and I can genuinely say that it has captured the same magic as its predecessor did. You become so invested in the story and the characters within it that the time ticks by with grace as you go through it. Because there are no time-bending shenanigans, this story is much more real and grounded. It’s an innately human tale that makes you emphatic and captures your sense of loss and love. Awake was a strong opener for this prequel and people who were a fan of Life is Strange will most definitely enjoy this new adventure with our favourite foul-mouthed punk.

 

Good

  • Narrative is top notch and dripping with intrigue
  • Solid visual presentation
  • Fantastic soundtrack
  • Voice acting is mostly on point
  • Interesting Backtalk mechanic

Bad

  • Quite a few instances of bad writing and awkward delivery
  • Little too much angst

Summary

If you were a fan of Life is Strange and its formula, this prequel will be perfect if you desired more from Arcadia Bay. The first episode set the tone for the angst-ridden tale mixed together with real tragedy and strong human emotion. The characters are all likeable or interesting in their own light and you won't regret the couple of hours that you'll spend tearing everything up with Chloe.
8.5

Great

I am way too tall, played way too many games and I love to write about what we love about games. In the end, I'm just being #Thabolicious
  • Dian Fourie

    So glad this is good.

    I just want to ask.. How is the new voice actress for Chloe? Did you notice a big difference?

    • Marko Thabo Swanepoel

      She did a great job, almost indistinguishable from Ashly Burch at times. There were a couple of moments where her performance differed a bit from the original, but overall it was solid.

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