Note: This review contains spoilers for both Life is Strange and Life is Strange: Before the Storm
Life is Strange was one of those pleasant surprises that not only took the new school adventure game style of Telltale to present a thoughtful and interesting story set within the boundaries of a small town high school, but it also presented one of the better time-travel based narratives of the last decade. It’s an experience everyone should check out, especially if find yourself in the position of being a fan of scripted episodic television and games. It’s greatest achievement though was combining both the story and mechanics to raise the gameplay and narrative stakes with each new episode. Truly masterful and emotional twists, with great pacing.
Life is Strange Before the Storm, for those that need a reminder, is a prequel series that follows the exploits of Chloe Price - a secondary but important character from the first game. A cool idea right off the bat, but as Chloe wasn’t tuned in to protagonist Max’s time-bending abilities and powers this meant that any Chloe-centric story would, by design, do away with the sci-fi angle of the original Life is Strange. And opt for something different. Well, not exactly different but the relationships between the characters would ultimately become the focal point of any prequel. And with Before the Storm using Chloe’s journey and formative relationship with Rachel Amber as the anchor, it works.
Which makes Life is Strange: Before the Storm a somewhat lover letter to fans of the first game. Fans that fell in love with the characters and the world, those that would simply be content with the idea of spending more time in Arcadia Bay. Even if the fate of the entire town wasn’t at stake. And it’s these seemingly lower stakes of Before the Storm that has resulted in the team at Deck Nine crafting a better written coming of age tale that the first game. An experience filled with interesting characters, great writing, and genuine love for the source material and themes.
Over three episodes we get to see Chloe transform from a confused and angry high-school dropout to a young adult that is command of her feelings and emotions. Even just a little bit. It’s remarkable that one of the narrative peaks is the performance of a high-school play, a retelling of The Tempest, which sees the Blackwell Academy outcast Chloe step into the role of Ariel at the very last minute. It’s a tense and emotional sequence, where acting opposite Rachel Amber she finds the courage to speak her mind through remembering or misremembering lines in front of a captivated audience.
It’s a sequence that doesn’t feature any life-threatening obstacle or time-sensitive fail state resulting in a game over screen. It speaks to the confidence of developer Deck Nine’s command over the source material and understanding that it’s the characters we care about – and not what cool action or supernatural element might be lurking in the shadows. It’s a change of gears, or direction, that does take some getting used to. And one wonders if the Chloe dream sequences, which reunite her with her recently deceased father, were simply included to add that otherworldly feel that permeated the entire first season of Life is Strange.
These moments take a back seat in the second half of the experience, which features a great and low-key ending. One that will make you want to immediately replay the original. And for a prequel to an already loved thing, firing up the original thing after it’s over because you feel that you have a much clearer and better understanding of both the world and its characters – is a good thing. No, a great thing.