Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode 1 review: a prequel that perfectly captures the hella unique feel of the first game
It’s been two and a half years since the launch of Life is Strange, an episodic graphic adventure game following Max Caulfield’s attempt to rescue her town after discovering she possessed time-rewinding abilities.
With a powerful narrative, brilliant character-building and voice acting, an incredible use of licensed songs and a memorable setting, Life is Strange ended up being my favourite game of 2015.
There were a few moments that had my jaw dropped in utter shock, something few games have managed to do before or since.
It’s a very special game to me, so when I heard a prequel was in development by a completely different studio, I was both excited and concerned.
But fear not, fans: Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a perfectly-fitting piece in the LiS saga.
The first of three episodes, Episode 1: Awake introduces us to a younger Chloe Price sans beanie hat and blue hair, set three years prior to the events of the first game.
Before the Storm explores the relationship between Chloe, here a 16-year-old rebel, and Rachel, the popular girl who went missing years preceding the events of Life is Strange.
Chloe Birch has unfortunately lost the voice talents of Ashly Burch from the first game, but her replacement does a decent job at filling the role.
Ashly’s loss is made up for with improved, more realistic dialogue, providing Chloe with a far sharper wit and better comebacks.
This comes in good use, as the loss of Max’s time-rewinding game mechanic has been replaced with the backtalk mechanic, a timed dialogue challenge that has you using backtalk and insults to get what you want from people.
As a story-driven game where all your actions have consequences that carry across the entirety of the game, you’ll want to choose what you say and do very carefully.
Although Max Caulfield doesn’t appear in the flesh, she’s not totally absent from Before the Storm.
As the protagonist of the first game and a huge part of Chloe’s life, her presence (or, more accurately, the lack of) is felt and referenced a great deal.
Chloe’s journal is filled with letters addressed to her best friend as a form of venting, despite never intending to actually send them. It’s a little bit sad to see what we already knew: that Chloe and Max drifted apart for several years, and that it seemed to be Max’s fault.
Other characters, such as Chloe’s mum Joyce, her boyfriend David, the school principal and Chloe’s dealer Frank, all make appearances, albeit of course also three years younger.
Just as before, everyone bursts with personality. You really do feel sorry for Joyce. You really start to bond with Rachel. You play a sweet game of Dungeons & Dragons with two nerdy classmates, ecstatic at the gory details you supply. It’s never lacking in character.
There are, as with every game, minor criticisms to be had. The score by British indie band Daughter is pleasant, but the licensed tracks don’t quite match up to the standard of the first game’s, in my opinion.
Walking feels a bit more jagged, with bumping into objects peculiarly more common. There are some other very slight technical hiccups, but nothing too worrisome.
The episode’s playtime depends on how much time you dedicate to exploring. As a narrative-driven game, negating to do so would sort of render the experience pointless.
Plenty of objects can provide new contextual dialogue options, or simply an interesting commentary snippet from Chloe. You can also find spots for graffiti tags, which effectively take the place of Max’s photo ops as Before the Storm’s ‘collectibles’.
If, for some reason, you explore so much that you forget what you’re supposed to be doing, your current mission is written on Chloe’s left hand. Handy.
Before the Storm perfectly captures the unique feel of the first game, art style and all. It is, in the best way, more of the same.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm’s first episode sets up the prequel perfectly, with the returning character Chloe and the mysterious Rachel already making for a effective new duo.
Before the Storm evokes everything wonderful about the first game, with even the loss of Max Caulfield and her time-rewind mechanic not as great as one might think.
This is fan service at its best. If you were a fan of Life is Strange, you’ll love this opening episode and the tease of what’s coming in the following episodes.
If you weren’t a fan, you this isn’t going to change your mind.
It’s hella simple.
A PlayStation 4 copy of this game was provided to us by the publisher for review purposes.