Life is Strange and I have an interesting past. While I did eventually come to enjoy how the events of the original Life is Strange unfolded, the same can't be said for my initial feelings for the first episode back in 2015. In fact, my negative opinions of the first episode of Life is Strange is what prompted me to begin writing for Novogamer. So I do owe that episode some thanks, but the reason I brought up the original is because of a couple of comments I made 2 years ago. In my original review, I expressed how I felt that Max Caulfield was such a bland, uninteresting character, and that the main focus of the game should have been on Chloe Price, Max's foul mouthed, blue haired companion. Enter Life is Strange: Episode 1- Awake; the game I wanted 2 years ago.
As I hope you can tell from that lengthy introduction, Life is Strange: Before the Storm centers around Chloe Price, as well as her unlikely friendship with Rachel Amber. All is not right in Chloe and Rachel's worlds, though. With Chloe still dealing with the death of her father and Rachel discovering a devastating secret about her family, the two must confide in each other and face their demons together. Immediately I found the premise to be much more enthralling than the original, but after completing Episode 1: Awake, I knew with absolute certainty that developer Deck Nine were the right choice to create this prequel.
Anyone that experienced the original is familiar with Chloe's rebellious personality, but Before the Storm allows the player to understand why Chloe has this attitude. This is mainly due to Chloe's friendship with Rachel. We see much more sensitive side of Chloe that is brought out by her feelings for Rachel. While the interactions between Chloe and Rachel feel genuine, the speed at which their friendship progresses seems unnaturally hasty. By the end of this episode, their friendship has only lasted for about a day, and they're already much closer with one another than I've ever been with my any of my friends. Surely Chloe and Rachel's friendship will have its ups and downs over the course of these next few episodes, but it would have been nice to see a more realistic path from strangers to best friends.
The scenic little town of Arcadia Bay returns in Before the Storm and is either paradise or perdition depending on whether or not you're a student at Blackwell Academy. The stylized graphics and modern point and click gameplay popularized by Telltale's The Walking Dead also make their return from the original Life is Strange. And while Before the Storm doesn't add anything new to this recent sub-genre of games, it never really had to. If it ain't broke, don't fix it. Everything you've come to expect from this type of game is here: explore an environment, examine and interact with objects, then speak to a character or exit said environment to continue the story. It's understandable that some people have become fatigued by this style of gameplay, but they're missing out on an exceptional story with Before the Storm.
Player choice was a major narrative and gameplay mechanic in the original that makes a return in Before the Storm. Whether it's something seemingly minor or something blatantly obvious, the choices you make in Life is Strange: Before the Storm all have consequences. Of course, since this a prequel, Max Caulfield is not in the picture and there are no time altering powers for the player to utilize, but Chloe has a power of her own; her attitude. 'Backtalk' allows the player to turn Chloe into the rudest 16 year old imaginable to verbally force her way through specific encounters.
Backtalk is used as both a narrative and gameplay mechanic. In a narrative sense, Backtalk plays a large role in player choice and consequence. And in terms of gameplay, you can use Backtalk to easily bypass potentially longer sections of the episode. You may find that someone you were rude to in order to get through a section of the episode easier is someone you really shouldn't have been rude to later on. There's only a few moments in Episode 1 that allow you to use Backtalk, but it's clear that there will be repercussions in the following episodes for using it. The exclusion of time altering abilities elevates the feeling of needing to face reality and consequences to heights not seen in the original Life is Strange, and that's crucial for any "coming of age" story.
Perhaps it's just me, but I found a large amount of the dialogue in Before the Storm to be painfully cringeworthy. I like to think that I'm 'hip' and 'with it,' but I've never met another human being in my life that spoke even remotely similar to how characters in Before the Storm speak to one another, and I live in California; the birthplace of all popular slang words. To blame Deck Nine for this would be misguided. Lest we forget that the original Life is Strange developers, DONTNOD Entertainment, sewed these cringe seeds hella deep.
On top of well written characters, Deck Nine also did an incredible job with Before the Storm's soundtrack. Had they gone with only melancholic tunes to match the depressing tone of Chloe and Rachel's stories, it would completely negate their punk, rebellious personalities, and if they had gone completely with a punk rock soundtrack, it would take away from many of the somber moments found in just this one episode alone. Luckily Before the Storm has a perfect combination of chilling melodies and rocking tracks to properly convey the appropriate emotions for each scene.
Returning to Arcadia Bay with a 16 year old Chloe Price as our hero was a great idea, and if the quality of this first episode is any indication, Deck Nine were the perfect choice to take the reigns of the Life is Strange series. Working in tandem with a beautiful location and a properly utilized soundtrack, Life is Strange: Before the Storm is perfectly capable of eliciting the emotions applicable to any given situation. While the unnatural speed at which Chloe and Rachel's friendship progressed at was a tad bit off putting, I'm still very much excited to see how their relationship will play out, and how they both deal with the curveballs life threw at them. If you've played through the original Life is Strange, you know where both of these characters end up, but it's not about the destination, it's about the journey.