Raw. Resplendent. Real.
These are just a few words I’d use to describe the episodic adventure game Life is Strange: Before the Storm.
Life Is Strange: Before the Storm
Developer: Deck Nine
Platform: PC, PS4, and Xbox One
MonsterVine was supplied with an Xbox One code for review
At the center of the game is 16-year-old Chloe Price: a familiar face from the series’s first installment. You follow Chloe as she navigates her increasingly difficult and alienating life after a family tragedy. She indulges in reckless antics—including drugs and tagging—with no regard for the law, stops attending school, and consistently clashes with her mother at home. Her brutal wit seems to get her into trouble more often than not. Then comes Rachel Amber, the most popular girl in school, suddenly eager to spend time with Chloe. Is she Chloe’s saving grace?
Chloe is misunderstood, and her destructive yet detached disposition proves to be much more than simply teenage angst. Although I haven’t experienced anything near the same level of Chloe’s tragedy in my life, I believe the Life is Strange prequel effectively presents the challenges of maneuvering through the fallout of personal hardships.
Life is Strange consists of branching dialogues, where one choice affects another (sometimes not immediately). Characters remember your choices, and depending on your decisions, their dialogue and attitude towards you will change. Some of these dialogue options offer extra, incredibly detailed content. It’s still unclear whether these extra scenes (e.g. playing a tabletop game with peers at school) will have long-term effects, but I enjoyed the extra content. I tend to take the more “white knight” approach in games, so when I compared my string of choices to other players’ at the episode’s final screen, I felt reassured knowing they did, too.
Unlike the first game, Before the Storm omits the rewinding power in exchange for a ‘backtalk’ ability. When Chloe encounters conflict, there are three dialogue options players can choose. The ‘backtalk’ option is symbolized by turquoise dialogue bubbles. The idea of this mechanic is to listen to what other characters say and respond appropriately. Therefore, it’s key to pay attention to word association, wordplay, and context of the conversation. ‘Backtalk’ consequently leads to positive or negative outcomes, some not immediate. Deck Nine has said “there are many situations where you don’t need to use it at all,” which MAY lead to better outcomes in the future. For the most part, I felt pretty immersed in the story, so there was some sense of urgency with every situation. Therefore, I used ‘backtalk’ whenever it was an option.
However, it did feel like some choices didn’t matter as much as others. Without spoiling the story, I sometimes felt the game was leading me on the path of a specific plot line despite my better interest. But story leading is important in some cases, especially with content as difficult to understand as this.
I’m no stranger to wasting countless, unnecessary hours on customization and random exploration. Before the Storm does not disappoint in terms of extras outside the main story. In fact, these supplements reveal a lot about Chloe’s unspoken feelings.
One of my favorite features of the game is Chloe’s journal, which is filled with unsent letters to her old, now-off-the-grid best friend Max. The journal is updated immediately after significant events in Chloe’s life, and offers commentary Chloe herself would never vocalize. It’s through these journal entries you’re shown the softer, more vulnerable side of the protagonist. In this journal is also a collection of short character bios, which is updated as you meet new people.
Chloe’s cell phone reveals more about how she relates to other characters. She receives text messages from other characters throughout the game, usually to tip off the player in the right direction of the current objective. However, characters also text Chloe after significant dialogue sequences. These texts show how the characters feel toward her and her reactions to certain events. Chloe automatically responds to the texts without the player’s guidance. It was a nice break from the heavy story to see these small interactions play out.
Before the Storm supplies additional comedic relief from the story through Chloe’s graffiti escapades. One of Chloe’s key traits is her creative mind, as seen through her expressive journaling. She carries a black permanent marker wherever she goes, and players can make (optional) use of it through tagging secret areas in nearly every scene. You have a choice between two different styles, both of which can be interpreted to further express Chloe’s feelings about her surroundings in that given moment.
There are a total of 10 graffiti locations for players to find and tag. If you don’t find them all in your first runthrough, Before the Storm has a Collector Mode that allows players to pick scenes and find all the graffiti locations without overwriting the current progression of events. A con of this feature is that you can’t pinpoint a specific moment to return to; you have to play through the sequence until you find what you’re looking for. But, you can fast-forward through dialogue with RB.
This episode can probably be finished in under four hours for players who don’t read every little thing. Because I was thorough in seeking out every bit of content, it took me over five hours to complete it.
Before the Storm is just…beautiful. Beautiful to experience, beautiful to look at and listen to, just plain beautiful.
The stylized art is reminiscent of a graphic novel while still being grounded in reality.
The graphics are incredibly detailed, sunlight in particular. There were few glitches during scene transitions and character expressions.
The cinematography? Oscar-worthy, honestly. Cutscenes elegantly introduce scenes before the game continues, and are usually more hazy and dream-like than actual gameplay. I felt as if I entered a trance I didn’t fully understand but didn’t want to escape, especially so during Chloe’s flashbacks. Some of the voices in the flashbacks sounded robotic and unrealistic, and proved to be a little distracting, but not enough to pull me out from the story.
The official soundtrack effectively complements the strong, unabashed exterior of the game with its soft, soothing acoustics. Players can further enjoy the music score by British indie band Daughter in Mixtape Mode. I would highly recommend checking this album out; its rises and falls in urgency hit me like a tidal wave of emotions, mostly positive. Mixtape Mode allows players to fine-tune their mixtapes to their own liking, which will play during the game’s calmer moments.
The Final Word
Episode 1: Awake is a strong start to Before the Storm. Its focus on navigating family struggles and female relationships proves to be both emotional and convincing, and is effectively portrayed through the main story, dialogue, and Chloe’s personal belongings/habits. The visuals are elaborate and beautifully stylized with few glitches in scene transitions, and effortlessly complemented by the soft, emotional music score.
I will be eagerly (and impatiently) waiting for the next two episodes in the series.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 – Great