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Having had as good a time as I did during my visit to Arcadia Bay, I was naturally pretty psyched to see a prequel announced not long after I played it.Then I saw that Chloe was the main character. But I'm an optimistic sort and that, so I deigned to give them a chance in spite of myself. Maybe they could make the most of an opportunity to provide more insight into Chloe's indefatigable... Chloeness?
The game starts out on the right foot, displaying a more caring and selfless Chloe. Despite her problems, she seems to be on the way to a better life. Then, Chloe met Rachel. Yes, that Rachel, who—in an appreciated twist—is revealed to be a far-cry from the near-beatified image of her perpetuated in the first game. Rachel, it is revealed, has an even weaker reason than Chloe to be acting out. Her every action seems rehearsed and self-serving, and she's an actively poisonous influence on Chloe.
Though I'm thankful the game at least allows you a choice in this matter, the very fact that it pushes for a romantic relationship between the two is laughable at best, and disturbing at worst. Rachel seems all but incapable of love; at least, anything but the kind of destructive love borne of morbid self-attention and codependency. Even without knowing what we know, it could only end in tears.
The girl definitely has mental issues out the gizzard, and even shows some level of self-awareness of this, but this would only excuse a pittance of her questionable actions at best. Oh hey, do I even have to tell you at this point that the Darkness-Induced Audience Apathy set in to the point that I gave up on the main story halfway through episode 2? No? You is a perceptive one, you is. Have a cookie. It's too bad too, because the Sadistic Choice in this one, I quite like. At the very least it was congruent with the larger story being told, this time.
But hey, it's not as if the main plot was necessarily the bread and butter of the original game either, right? Well, it's just too bad this feels like a "mini-series" in more ways than one. The measured artisanship of the original in terms of atmospheric touches and pacing is all but nonexistent. New characters pass in and out of the story with little fanfare, their redundancy to the main plot laid bare with shocking frequency. In a word, it feels rushed.
The only thing I truly appreciated about this massive disappointment is the deeper insight provided into Chloe's "step-douche", who is one of the most complex and, dare I say, human characters in recent video games. But almost invariably, the new developers fail at both putting their own stamp on the IP, and retreating old ground for some cheap nostalgia value.
(And no, my opinion wasn't at all influenced by them passing up Kate Beverly Marsh—an angel too good for this sinful earth—for a spinoff protagonist. Seriously though, you will face divine retribution in due time. Deus vult.)
I wasn't expecting to say this about Life is Strange: Before the Storm, but Life Is Strange is one of my favourite games, and normally sequels/prequels to my favourite games are disappointing to say the least, with some exceptions, but this really manages to capture everything great about the original, while keeping things fresh with some interesting changes.
Life is Strange is the story of Max, who returns to Arcadia Bay after a long absence and reconnects with her old best friend Chloe, who the story mostly revolves around. Before the Storm is the story of Chloe, during that same long absence, who connects with Rachel Amber, a mysterious girl at her high school who the story mostly revolves around. It sounds a little bit recycled, but it's a fresh character and a different story, and the writing is as funny and charming as I found it the first time around.
The biggest difference is that Max could rewind time in short periods, and Chloe can not. While you could never predict all of the consequences in the original, you would get an idea of them, and could rewind if you really messed up in a situation. Not so here; you can't go back this time around, which forces players to think more quickly and more carefully.
There are other nice little differences; Warren in the original game is a cute but dorky teenager with hints that he might be more of a jerk than he lets on, and sure enough, these hints amount to nothing and he is legitimately a friendly and supportive, if slightly awkward, guy whereas in this game, there's Eliot, who is also cute and dorky and has a crush on the protagonist, but, just like Warren, actually, I lied, unlike Warren, he's a possessive asshat who seems to be in love with an idealised version of Chloe and gets annoyed with her for spending so much time with Rachel.
On top of that, the game's willingness to poke fun at itself is admirable. The graphics settings go up to 'Hella High', and there are some great Call Forwards, like Frank's RV having a cupboard full of tins of beans, and Pompidou as a cute puppy. And while the stakes are lower, the choices are just as difficult; I found the final choice much tougher in this game, and at the time of writing - 11 days after it came out - the split is 49/51%. So for following up one of my favourite games of all-time with a spin-off that didn't just satisfy me, but impressed me on its own merits, I have to say it's my favourite game to come out this year.
Granted, the only other game I've played that came out this year was Pac-Man Championship Edition 2.
And it might primarily be for this one Adorkable line from when Chloe and Rachel's friendship is starting to blossom, and you have the option to try to make small talk about the weather.
Life Is Strange: Before the Storm works as a standalone story, but if you've played the excellent original, you'll appreciate this game even more and, more amazingly, it'll make you appreciate the original game more too.
Before the Storm plays to the same strengths as Life Is Strange. It has a fantastic soundtrack, a story and stakes that other videogames don't even touch, complicated characters that you care about and some heavy-handed but interesting symbolism and themes.
But it doesn't repeat them.
The soundtrack is more punk and rock, fitting Chloe instead of the more indie-hipster Max. The story is less laid back and more troubled. Instead of rewinding, you argue.
The writing is superb, they don't just capture Chloe, they capture who she was before she turned into Chloe. It's genuinely shocking to go back and forth between the punk rebel Chloe in LiS and the scared teenager who wants to be a punk rebel in BtS.
Knowing what happens in LiS makes BtS feel more tragic, but also getting to know these characters in BtS makes LiS feel more poignant. You understand more complexities behind who these people are.
There are some incredible heartwarming scenes, the play being my favourite.
A few quick specific differences: I miss being able to rewind and the chill atmosphere. The writing in BtS is a little more consistent and sticks the landing better.
This review covers the 3 core episodes, and not the bonus episode to be released in 2018 for owners of the deluxe edition.
When I say "fanservice", I mean in the traditional sense of "give the fans what they want". If you played the original game and want more backstory, Before the Storm can deliver on that front alone. It's loaded with enough sly nods, Call Forwards, backstory, and characterisation for some of the first game's less developed characters.
That said, the game itself still stands on its own.
While the supernatural elements that were present in the original game are still there, the game mostly focuses on the drama within Rachel and Chloe's respective families and their own relationship. Deck 9 have captured the look and feel of the original game, and it feels more or less like DONTNOD made another 3 more episodes of it (albeit with better writing and a different cast of voice actors because of the 2017 strike). The chemistry between Chloe and Rachel feels very real, and while the slang is unlikely to be convincing to actual teenagers, most of the dialogue, posters, letters and other material feels authentic to the relatively recent era.
The plot itself moves faster than the original (thanks to the shorter format), but there's still plenty of replay value (notably, the ending addresses a common complaint of the original game and takes more player choice into account). Because of this, the choice/concequences mechanic feels much more refined. The story itself is a winding tale of budding romance and mystery which keeps the darker elements fairly well blended with the fluffier ones, and is definitely the strongest element (as well as making good use of the medium by keeping many smaller character arcs running in the background through optional material).
The only way the game falls short of the first game is the gameplay itself. It loses a lot from no longer featuring the rewind mechanic (although it ironically still seems to vary the puzzles more). The backtalk mechanic is interesting (functioning like the climax of the first game's second episode, with a proper UI), but there's probably about a dozen or so across the entire game and doesn't fully replace it. While the adventure game mechanics for dialogue and interaction are still as solid as they were before, they feel a little dull without the ability to delve into every possible choice. At the same time, the graffiti which replaces the photograph opportunities of the original game are slighly more interesting (since you're able to choose what Chloe "tags" things with, and most of them are as snarky — or in some cases, heartwarming— as you'd expect).
If you loved the first game, you'll love this. If you're a fan of adventure games, and/or queer romance, definitely look into it. If you've never played the first game, you can easily play this one first without spoiling it.
The only way the game falls short of the first game is the gameplay itself. It loses a lot from no longer featuring the rewind mechanic (although it ironically still seems to vary the puzzles more). The backtalk mechanic is interesting (functioning like the climax of the first game's second episode, with a proper UI), but there's probably about a dozen or so across the entire game and doesn't fully replace it. While the adventure game mechanics for dialogue and interaction are still as solid as they were before, they feel a little dull without the ability to delve into every possible choice. At the same time, the graffiti tags that have replaced the photograph opportunities of the original game are slighly more interesting (since you're able to choose what Chloe "tags" things with, and most of them are as snarky — or in some cases, heartwarming— as you'd expect).
If you loved the first game, you'll want to play this. If you're a fan of adventure games, and/or queer romance, definitely look into it. If you've never played the first game, you can easily play this one first without spoiling it.
Life is Strange was, to me, one of the best surprises of 2015. Its branching story, many choices that affect things ranging from who your friends and enemies are to who lives and who dies, and the amazing ability to rewind time, along with characters I liked and cared about, came together to form a surprisingly compelling experience in a genre I normally hate. To date, I've played through it twice. Due to its totally story-driven nature, it doesn't lend itself heavily to replay, but I still enjoyed revisiting it.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a prequel that focuses entirely on Chloe, who is widely considered the most interesting character of the original, and is easily my favorite character. She's now the playable character, and this is her story.
There's one major problem though. She doesn't have the ability to rewind time to "cheat" on conversations or solve tricky puzzles.
Instead, Chloe's occasionally used special ability is "backtalk". That is, you start an argument, and based on what the other person says to you, you quickly choose an appropriately snarky response (before time runs out). Do this enough times, and you win the argument. Yay.
Chloe has her own life problems, like she did in the first game. Tussles with various never-do-wells, being in debt to a drug dealer, having to deal with her asshole stepdad, and having no friends except for Rachel Amber - a relationship that's rather rocky, for that matter.
While I do find some interest in these problems, the first game had these types of teen issues in addition to supernatural elements such as the strange weather and various other odd occurrences going on like all the randomly dying animals. It also had some major mystery elements that I really liked as well, as the disappearance of Rachel Amber was a major focal point, providing plenty of tense moments and some interesting dangerous villains to deal with.
Before the Storm, at least in the first episode, is lacking these details that I found so appealing.
And finally, how much control over the story do I really have? In the first game, there were a huge number of characters whose livelihoods or even very lives were determined by the player's actions. Fail to do the right thing, and a character may die and be permanently gone from the story. Even though rewinding time only affected actions that occur on the spot (players would have to reload a previous chapter to change major choices whose long-term consequences they'd just discovered), it still felt like I was making major changes to the world around me. I don't get that feeling with this game.
In short, Before the Storm threw away a large chunk of the appeal Life is Strange had for me and replaced it with... what? Really, not much. I like Chloe, and I'm interested in her problems, but Max's game had so much more.
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