(This review contains spoilers for Life Is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1: Awake. If you want to see a spoiler-free review of the overall gameplay and my initial impressions, please read my Episode 1 review.)
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
Below is a summary of my choices in Episode 1:
Episode 1 ended with Chloe and Rachel staring into the Overlook engulfed in flames: an image burned into my mind as I started up Episode 2: Brave New World. The episode begins with Chloe and Rachel, as well as their parents, in Blackwell’s principal’s office discussing the repercussions of the girls skipping school.
With Rachel being Blackwell’s Queen Bee, the blame for the girls’ misdemeanor is inevitably placed on Chloe. But Rachel makes use of her credible acting skills and attempts to convince everyone that she persuaded Chloe to skip school with her (even though the player knows the whole ordeal was indeed Rachel’s idea).
The player is then given a choice: either play along with Rachel’s story—removing Rachel from The Tempest performance—or take the blame—expelling Chloe from Blackwell.
The above story highlights Episode 2’s sense of immediate urgency. Similar to its predecessor, Before the Storm’s gameplay, specifically decision-making, is complicated with each new episode. Whereas in Episode 1 you chose between playing or not playing a tabletop board game, in Episode 2 (at least the above example) you choose between others’ well-being or Chloe’s future. The increased complexity makes the episode much more enjoyable than the first, and adds much-needed depth and ethics to keep me thinking about the consequences of my actions.
But Episode 2 isn’t just a string of choices and consequences. Additional challenges in the episode allow players to interact more with the environment, which seemed to take a backseat in the first episode. I particularly enjoyed scavenging items in a junkyard.
Above all else, however, Before the Storm continues to impress me with its departure from heteronormativity and exploration of strong female relationships.
Episode 1 gave players the option to pursue Rachel romantically or platonically. I chose the latter, as I believed Chloe needed a friend over a romantic partner to help cope with her troubled past and haunting present. Rachel’s disappointment helped guide my future choices in Episode 2, and the development of their relationship is delightful to experience.
LGBTQA+ visibility is also seen in NPC dialogue. The nod to progressivism and equality is appreciated, even in the smaller instances in which the player sees them. Giving the spotlight to socially marginalized communities is a positive step in acknowledging (and celebrating) the existence of such communities. Before the Storm successfully and seamlessly accomplishes this even aside from the game’s female protagonists.
In regards to Chloe’s relationship with her mother, it’s more unforgiving. The situation feels helpless and at times unmendable. One of the ending scenes made me tear up a bit, since I have a healthy relationship with my mother. *sigh* I just want the best for those two.
With strong female leads, however, comes robotic male voice acting—again Chloe’s dad—and unlikable, unrelatable male characters. Seriously: I think I only like three of the male characters in the entire game so far, and I actually want to punch David in the face for his aggressive masculinity. But this isn’t their story, so I try to forget about them and instead focus on who really matters.
While Episode 1’s technical difficulties in awkward character animations and scene transitions are still present in Episode 2, none of it was enough to distract me from the rich story and interesting gameplay.
If the trend for episode releases continues, hopefully we can see Episode 3 in the next couple months. And it better come soon…I can’t stand cliffhangers!
The Final Word
Episode 2: A Brave New World puts more pressure on the player to make some serious decisions, but allows ethical deduction to make choices actually feel important. The LGBTQA+ community is successfully made visible through the main story and NPCs, and the episode’s strong narrative outshines its small technical hiccups.
– MonsterVine Review Score: 4.5 out of 5 – Great