From August of last year through March of this year, Deck Nine Games have been periodically releasing episodes of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, the prequel to 2015’s narrative adventure hit Life is Strange from DONTNOD Entertainment. Before the Storm contained three main episodes and culminated in a bonus episode, which put an end to the story of Max, the main character of the first game, and Chloe, this game’s protagonist.
As anyone who’s been following my reviews and articles about the game since last summer knows, I was initially pretty skeptical of Before the Storm. However, once all is said and done, I think that Before the Storm proved to be a solid entry in the Life is Strange series. I’ll be mostly covering some of the broad strokes of my opinions about the game in general here, so if you want to know how I felt about each episode specifically, you can read my reviews of Episode One, Episode Two, Episode Three and the Bonus Episode by clicking the corresponding links.
The three main episodes of Before the Storm have been out for a few months now, and even the bonus episode has been out for a couple of weeks, so I’ve had a good amount of time to reflect on the entire experience. Ultimately, I enjoyed it a lot, but looking back, there were a couple of things I personally had to do in order to maximize my enjoyment of the game. These things may not be necessary for everyone to have a good experience with the game, but I found that they helped me.
You’ll find that [the game’s story] is engrossing.
First and foremost, I eventually had to accept that this is not a traditional choose-your-own-adventure story, despite its emphasis on player choices. Before the Storm is the story of Chloe Price, and the player is merely along for the ride. While the decisions you make do impact the game to a degree, and certainly impact the experience you have with it, you will likely have to learn to let go and surrender to the narrative as it’s being told. There are just simply going to be numerous instances in which Chloe will do something the player doesn’t particularly want her to do, or the player will be presented with two choices that are both unattractive. The player has a role in shaping the story, but at the end of the day, the story is going to go down the path that it’s scripted to, regardless of where the player is trying to lead it.
To those looking for a game in which their choices will truly matter, this probably sounds like a bummer. And it likely would be, were it not for the fact that if you do actually surrender to the game’s story, you’ll find that it is engrossing simply as a narrative. Despite the fact that Chloe tries so hard to be a stereotypical punk, she’s a much more complicated character than that, and while this is touched on in the original Life is Strange, it is explored much more thoroughly when playing through her eyes in Before the Storm. You might find yourself getting frustrated with the game when the playable character chooses to do something detrimental regardless of the player’s goals, but if you’re willing to view the game as more a set story than a piece of malleable fiction that bends to the player’s will, there’s a lot to enjoy here, even if Chloe’s teenage debauchery can be pretty cringey a lot of the time.
It’s not like the player’s choices are completely undermined, however. There are plenty of choices that will in fact shape the game’s events and even shape Chloe as a character, even if the possibilities of her personalities end up just being teenage delinquent and teenage slightly-less delinquent. The last choice in the game is one in particular that you may not see the consequences of in-game too much, but it’s one that you know will shape these character’s lives in a major way in the three and a half years between this game and the first Life is Strange.
The other thing that helped me to personally enjoy the game more was having played the first Life is Strange first. I think Before the Storm certainly has the potential to hold itself up as a stand-alone game, but I think the audience of Before the Storm on its own would be much different from, and maybe even much more limited than, the audience of the combination of Before the Storm and the first game. Personally, if I had played Before the Storm first without having experienced Life is Strange, it likely wouldn’t have had nearly the same effect on me. I probably would have just dismissed it as a game about a bratty teenage girl who consistently annoys me with her behavior. I don’t know that I would have cared about it all that much. I’m sure there are a lot of people who’d be able to relate to Chloe and enjoy Before the Storm on its own, but I don’t think I would have been one of them.
But I did play Life is Strange first and it is probably one of my favorite games of all time. In the first game, I was able to experience the character of Chloe as more of an external force, as she took on the role of the game’s deuteragonist. Throughout the five episodes of Life is Strange, I learned that even though I may not have related to Chloe’s character, or even cared for her reckless actions most of the time, she proved to be a complicated and interesting person, which is what gave me interest in the premise of Before the Storm, where Chloe takes center stage and more light is shed on her complicated character. In other words, I was only interested in Chloe’s character to begin with because of how she was presented in the first game; if Before the Storm was my introduction to this character, my experience would have been very different.
Before the Storm does a great job in expanding upon [Chloe’s] personal intricacies.
So while I have the first Life is Strange to thank for my interest in Chloe’s character to begin with, Before the Storm does a great job in expanding upon her personal intricacies. Chloe proves to be a very morally grey character. Oftentimes she does bad things because she thinks her bad attitude is justified by her past tragedies. Other times she tries to do good things, but goes about them in questionable ways. Sometimes she wants to get into a fight (either physically or verbally) because she thinks that makes her look cool and tough. Other times she just wants to help out her friend, who is going through tragedies of her own. And other characters often act just as human. Frank seems like a good guy, oftentimes putting himself at risk to help others. However, he also makes a living selling hardcore drugs to high school kids. Rachel’s dad lies to her daughter to protect her from harm, but eventually goes to some pretty extreme lengths that end up seriously harming others. Both Chloe’s mom Joyce and Joyce’s boyfriend David try their best to help Chloe get through this tough time in her life, but neither really know the best way of doing so, and Chloe isn’t exactly helping herself either. And things get even more complicated if you take into consideration my theory that Chloe might have PTSD. This all causes a number of frustrating situations to occur, especially if you’re someone who just wants Chloe to start behaving, but it also presents an interesting study of the human condition and the shades of grey that make up the majority of any scale of morality.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm isn’t without its faults. As I explain in my individual episode reviews, the lack of choice can sometimes be frustrating and occasionally the dialogue comes off as contrived. You might have to surrender to the game’s set narrative more than you’d like and you might have to play the first game to fully appreciate this one. But if you can get past some of this, you might find that what Before the Storm offers the Life is Strange series is pretty great. The exploration into Chloe’s character is excellent and even if you can’t relate to her or find her behavior annoying, she proves to be very interesting and Deck Nine does a great job bringing this character into the spotlight. The bonus episode neatly wraps up the Max and Chloe saga of Life is Strange while providing even more insight into both characters. Is this game as good as the original Life is Strange? Personally, I don’t think so. But it’s still great nonetheless and definitely shouldn’t be missed by fans of the first game.
Life is Strange: Before The Storm
- Available On: Xbox One, PS4, PC
- Published By: Square Enix
- Developed By: Deck Nine Games
- Genre: Adventure
- US Release Date: March 6th, 2018
- Reviewed On: PlayStation 4
- Quote: "Is this game as good as the original Life is Strange? Personally, I don't think so. But it's still great nonetheless and definitely shouldn't be missed by fans of the first game."