Life Is Strange: Before The Storm Episode 1 Review

By Rebecca Smith, 2 months ago
When it was released two years ago, Dontnod Entertainment's Life Is Strange provided a breath of fresh air in the episodic story driven genre that was (and arguably still is) dominated by Telltale Games. The game introduced players to a cast of memorable characters and a small town known as Arcadia Bay. Despite the story being completely self-contained, players have been clamouring to return to this world. Indeed, Dontnod is currently developing a sequel to the title. In the meantime, Deck Nine Games has begun to reveal what happened in the years before Life Is Strange with the release of the first episode of Life Is Strange: Before The Storm.

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Three years prior to the events of Life Is Strange, players are placed in the shoes of 16-year-old Chloe Price. Nobody would envy the hand that the girl has been dealt in life. Two years ago, her father was killed in a car crash. Soon after, her best friend Max Caulfield moved away to Seattle after her father got a new job. Chloe's mother, Joyce, has found herself a new boyfriend in the form of ex-military man David, but Chloe despises him with every fibre of her being.

Chloe has been through a lot and has struggled to come to terms with the events that have had such an impact on her life. The result is a deep hatred that she has cultivated for virtually everything around her — school, Arcadia Bay, authority and just life in general. She embodies a torn character, caught in between a deep urge to rebel, raise a middle finger to everything and leave the Bay, and the impossible wish to return to the peaceful and comforting normality of the past. She's divisive and some may even find her to be a bit of a dislikeable character, at least initially. Many of her observations are tinged with snark and it's sometimes hard to understand her reasoning, something that effects the decisions that you'll make as Chloe.

Like the first title, players are faced with unmissable moral dilemmas where players are given choices to make that change the story. Whereas Max was a new character without any personal baggage and was a clean slate for players to design as they wish, this isn't the case with Chloe. Her agenda means that her options are usually either to be a complete bitch or to awkwardly try and sympathize with the situation at hand. Indeed, attempting to play Chloe as a character that can be molded any way you please can lead to some jarring moments that don't quite fit in as they should. If you try to fill her shoes and think as she would, you'll have a far smoother experience.

Do you tell Joyce what you think or are you more diplomatic?Do you tell Joyce what you think or are you more diplomatic?

As before, you have as much time as you need to make these decisions and there are times when you'll be really grateful for this. The decision making process carries far more weight without Max and her time-rewinding mechanic on the scene; there's no back tracking to pick another option and you're stuck with your initial choices. The impact of these decisions may or may not be important in the future — only time will tell. At least nothing was evident in the first episode with the exception of some minor character interactions. In the meantime, you can at least compare your decisions with those of other players after the end credits to see how they played out the first chapter.

The lack of time mechanic doesn't mean that players are relegated to exploring, talking to other NPCs and making occasional decisions. Instead, Chloe has a much more befitting BackTalk mechanic, something to which players are introduced early in the game. Given at least two choices and a countdown timer, players quickly have to decide which dialogue to pick to make Chloe sound smart-mouthed and convincing. Voluntary interactions with other characters and surrounding objects can give more dialogue options to make things easier and more personal. Some players may not appreciate the added pressure of the timer but it makes the conversations seem more genuine. In the real-world, replies have to be made on the cuff and not ten minutes later after all.

Not only is Chloe surrounded by the familiar faces of her family, some of Max's school colleagues also return. Of course, it isn't necessary to have played through Life Is Strange before taking on Before The Storm and players can appreciate the title for what it is without that knowledge, especially as this familiarity can be both a blessing and a boon. On the positive side, it's nice to flesh out those supporting characters even further and see how different they were three years previously. On the other hand, your prior experience with these characters is likely to affect your decision making in Episode 1. For instance, one character is caught in a situation where he is the victim. Do you step in and help, or do you remember just how repulsive he is three years into the future and leave him to his fate? It's an extra dimension to add to your already complicated decisions.

A mix of new and familiar facesA mix of new and familiar faces

This doesn't mean that everybody and everywhere is familiar, though; there is a fair spread of new characters and locations for players to experience. The most interesting of these is Chloe's growing relationship with Rachel Amber, someone with whom LIS players will be familiar but who we get to see taking a major role in the prequel. Rachel is the ideal foil to Chloe. Whereas Chloe never holds back, you always know what she is thinking and she's somewhat predictable, Rachel is a mysterious girl who seemingly has dark secrets of her own. She brings out the best in Chloe and both characters become more developed as the episode progresses. LIS players will know the fate of both of them in the future, but for now it will be fascinating to see where the next two episodes take us in their story.

The final bonus is that like LIS, Before the Storm's Episode 1 achievements aren't affected by the decisions players make throughout the game. There's the obligatory achievement for completing the episode, but the remaining ten are linked to completing optional graffiti spots in Arcadia Bay, the game's form of collectibles. Some are really easy to find while others require a specific sequence of events that can be easily missed. There are plenty of guides out there to help you to find them, but if you do miss any of the spots, the game's Collectibles Mode allows players to return to specific scenes in order to complete them. The episode will award players an easy 300 Gamerscore for completion.

Summary

Life Is Strange: Before The Storm may well take place before the literal storm but that doesn't mean that events run smoothly. Chloe is struggling to come to terms with the events of the last couple of years, but her burgeoning relationship with Rachel Amber looks set to change all that. When it comes to moral decisions, the options may not always make sense with Chloe and some awkwardness can ensue, but this is a minor issue in an otherwise solid episode, especially when the new BackTalk mechanic is very fitting and adds some realism to conversations. Depending on how much you like surprises, familiarity and prior knowledge from Life Is Strange can be either a blessing or a boon, but regardless of this, Chloe's new (old?) adventure looks to be a fascinating storyline to follow into the remaining two episodes.
4 / 5
Positives
  • Engaging story
  • Fitting BackTalk mechanic adds some realism to conversations
  • Plenty of time to make decisions
Negatives
  • Some awkwardness to Chloe's conversations
Ethics Statement
The reviewer spent three hours living out the horrors of Chloe's life before having to spend another 20 minutes working out the exact order of interactions to complete the one collectible that she missed. She gained all of the episode's 11 achievements for a total of 300 Gamerscore. An Xbox One copy of the game was provided by the publisher for the purpose of this review.
Rebecca Smith
Written by Rebecca Smith
Rebecca is the Newshound Manager at TrueGaming Network. She has been contributing articles since 2010, especially those that involve intimidatingly long lists. When not writing news, she works in an independent game shop so that she can spend all day talking about games too. She'll occasionally go outside.