GATECRASHING, RPG’S AND SOUL SEARCHING.
2 short years ago when Square Enix’s Life is Strange dropped into the public domain and into our hearts I was so surprised at how much I loved it, and not just that, I was surprised that I was surprised (if that makes any sense at all) because it had everything I was looking for. An emphasis on the butterfly effect, a rich art style, a deep, emotional plot and Bright Eyes. It was upon my discovery of the game where I realised that you can enjoy a game with a good cup of tea and just immerse yourself like you would with a book because its overall package, the characters, the music and pacing made you feel warm inside and said ‘HEY! Why don’t you chill out and enjoy the story and the odd time bending puzzle?’. Life is Strange: Before the Storm has all the tools needed to rival its predecessor in many ways from what I saw in the first episode, the cultural differences between the Maxine and Chloe makes for some intriguing storytelling and a different kind of stride throughout and while keeping the same artistic flare, some location and in most part the same gameplay feels like an extremely auspicious prequel with its first offering – Awake.
Taking place before the events for the first game, we return to Arcadia Bay, Oregon and step into the Chuck Taylor’s of Chloe Price (before the blue hair) the rebellious friend of Max from the first game and her experience through life before their reunion. Living life as an angry loner with a strained family life, Chloe is soon befriended by the mysterious Rachel Amber (the ever allusive, often mentioned teen from the original). They soon find out that despite having significantly different upbringings, they are not so different from one another and embark on a self-fulfilling journey of friendship, rebellion and sexual confusion.
Before the Storm welcomes back Life Strange’s elegant and bright look with a little polish added to help bring out the boldness of it all. The city of Arcadia Bay continues to feel like an actual community within a game instead of a series of destinations and locations and really does justice to the diversity and surroundings of the state of Oregon, even through the means of a fictional town by mixing, quaint suburbs, lakes, woodlands and derelict train yards in one close proximity. The devs at Deck Nine also do a great job of nailing the use of lighting affectively as they have done before. The light shining through the window as Chloe lays in bed, the sunset over the lake and the blazing fires featured in the first episode brings a hopeful atmosphere to the story and its characters and in my mind symbolises a new beginning in both Chloe and Rachel. Before the Storm does a great job by building a story through its characters, although things may run a bit slow in this episode at times, anyone who has played the original first Life is Strange will know pretty much any character you come across and what they’re all about through the first episode and newcomers will have no trouble either as Before the Storm delves into each person’s heart and soul effortlessly. Seeing the world through a different more angsty set of eyes brings a whole new flavour and taking a supporting character to the forefront conveys wisdom to an already familiar face and the real life struggles of loneliness, loss and love only helps her come across as more genuine and bringing in Rachel, a girl that was only previously spoken of, and actually giving her life only makes things more interesting. This is al brought together by a fantastic soundtrack recorded by American indie band, Daughter, who set the mood magnificently through this episode.
Mechanically, Before the Storm works just as fluently and just as interactively as its precursor but keeps the same issue of your character moving at a snail’s pace. Things seem pretty familiar as you wander around and interact with other people with your actions and responses having consequences to the story with some extras to accomplish depending on how much you explore, however with it being the first episode of three the decisions you make don’t really hold much gravity on things to come, but with my experiences with this series they can only build up to bigger things. The removal of Max’s time manipulating powers makes for a lack of puzzle solving and the chance to rethink your decisions and goes for a straighter forward approach, story driven approach but diminshes that surreal aspect we came to love, save for the brilliantly excecuted dream sequences but this is made up for with an interesting new mechanic. At times, you will have to argue your way through situations, measured by a kind of scoring system. During this, you must pay attention to what the other person and use that to select angry and witty retorts in order to make things go your way. This offers a whole lot more absorption into the experience and makes you feel you are on the warpath alongside Chloe.