This franchise is sending me mixed signals … it’s like, I enjoy the game, but some things piss me off in the process. And then I question why I can’t have more freedom to do what I want.
You know what … let’s talk a bit about the first installment of the franchise, because I want to set up some viewpoints before moving on to the sequel.
Life is Strange is a game which received a lot of excitement from fans and me personally, as I was part of that group, even from a latter point of the game coming out, I have to say some things felt a bit weird in the game – both from a story and gameplay points of view. Allow me to elaborate…
While I did enjoy the story of Life is Strange with the main themes of the butterfly effect and time reversal, sometimes I felt confused and questioned “why this is a certain way” or “how come this happened like that”. Indeed, in the beginning, as the game sets pace, all is well and explained and you have more free will over the actual gameplay aspect of the game, however, as episodes progress, I believe story and gameplay get more and more linear and less explorative. I was hoping to get answers to a lot of questions, but instead of that, I get more and more confused to some things. I remember I had to pause the game multiple times and just research on Google, how come some stuff are like they follow. I get it that the game tries to be mysterious and vague and tries to leave some space for interpretation to its players, however, the mystery aspect comes in too much. I kind of feel the same problem that De-Void had. Great story, managed to draw me in perfectly … but then it left me hanging on so many points.
The ending … oh God, the ending. I smell a Mass Effect type of ending … and not in a good type of way. Yes, I was unsatisfied about the choices presented to me at the ending and while they were logical for the plot that had been set up to that point … well, sorry Chloe, but I didn’t fancy you all that much to pick you over an entire town.
Not to mention that apart from the major decisions, none of the minor ones have whatsoever (if any) impact on the story … even a little bit. Excluding from that statement is the things you do for Kate in episode 1, leading to her attempt to suicide. Those were well made minor choices, because they unlock the possibility of saving Kate. Alas, from that point onward, whatever minor you do, it won’t really have any impact on the main story. Most of it is just flavor.
On another note I would have also appreciated if there was some way for Max to end up with Warren. Dude’s efforts were cute, he tried his best for Max to notice him and he was way more likeable than Chloe. So when I played my run of the game I tried to be as nice to him as possible and I actually turned Chloe down on the relationship front. That wasn’t solely to the fact that I disliked her guts, but rather that the game was forcing me to be in a relationship with her, which I would not have. Basically it’s set up as either be with her or no-one.
Apart from that I really did enjoy whenever the game was allowing you to explore however you want to and talk to random people. Most of the time the minor decisions and not so important talks bring so much color into the game and I really fancied that.
So how does the sequel, which is actually a prequel story-wise, fare?
Life is Strange: Before the Storm tells us the story of a bit younger Chloe, how she came to be the rebel she is, how she fares with the death of her father and most importantly – her relationship with Rachel Amber, before her disappearance. In the first episode we are introduced to the well-known character + some new faces. And here is the beloved SPOLER TAG. Episode 1 marks the meeting of Rachel and Chloe in an abandoned warehouse, where a metal band plays. After we managed to talk our way in, we get into a fight and Rachel comes in to the rescue. That doesn’t stop, however, the girls from having the time of their lives. Next day goes by standard procedure – our mom gives us “the talk”, David is being a piece of sh*t, just like in the first game, at least we get to meet some new faces in Blackwell … on top of some old ones like Nathan Prescott and Victoria whatsherface (forgot her family name lol). The thing I enjoyed here the most was the RPG game we can choose to play with Steph and Mikey. Low and behold that was the part of the episode I enjoyed the most and for a brief moment I forgot I was playing as Chloe…
After that, we reconcile with Rachel and the two girls decide to run away from class hitching on a train. Okay, on a side note here, can I say that them falling for each other feels super rushed for me, like I know there are only 3 episodes, on the contrary to 5 of the original game, but come on. They spoke once and suddenly they love each other… Anyways, the two girls have a nice time together in a park, however all is ruined when Rachel sees her dad with another woman. She pushes Chloe away and of course Chloe goes buwonkers in a trash yard (which I enjoyed if I have to be honest … you know me, I always like smashing stuff). Then they talk soppy cr*p to each other and Rachel burns down the whole park … which is ironic really, seeing as there were fire posters all over school and we even can sign a “preventing forest fires” campaign.
Anyways… what I can say about the story is, while I did enjoy it on an overall note, I felt like there was too much drama for nothing at the end. Yeah your dad cheated on your mom, yeah that’s not nice, however, is that a reason to go all drama queen on a tree and burn the pretty thing down. I mean, at least he’s not dead, like in Chloe’s case, which is probably the only thing I can sympathize with, for the character.
On the note of characters. Okay, I know I badmouth Chloe a lot and it’s clear that I don’t like her character, but if I look at her from a neutral perspective, she is a very developed character and I like the effort put into her. However, on that same note, I didn’t see any development from the previous game. Chloe was the same personality-wise and I didn’t really see any difference from the first game or anything that may lead to there. It would have been better for her as a whole, and more interesting for the player, to see how she is built up to the point she was in the first game, rather than just throwing in the same Chloe Price we know all too well.
Rachel Amber … boy do I hate her guts too. While she does have a lot of depth into her, as a character as well, at least she doesn’t pose the same problem as Chloe does, since we haven’t really seen her in the first installment, apart from on missing posters. Not gonna lie, I don’t like her type of girls, however, from a neutral point of view, I’d really like to see how far she will “mature” … hopefully she does, because burning down a park for something so stupid, is not okay.
Apart from that everyone else, who is a recurring character is the same. Boy did I enjoy seeing Nathan Prescott being bullied. I’m glad we get to see new faces, in-between the ones we know, just to see a fresh perspective to Blackwell. Also, on the note of Max. It’s totally not okay, how she doesn’t respond to Chloe. I mean how long would it take to respond to a text. But yeah, we do get to communicate to her via text from time to time (and by that I mean almost never). And speaking of Max, just like in the first game we keep a journal here as well, detailing the events that occurred. This time it’s not a personified one, rather than a format as if Chloe was writing a letter to Max.
I do enjoy the little details in this game though. For example I loved the fact that you can pick what to wear for the rest of the episode. I loved the RPG game, as I said. The minor interactions with minor characters in the school yard and also picking what graffiti to draw. Yes, here instead of taking pictures, the equivalent to that is drawing graffiti on specific locations. Most of them were entertaining enough, some rather bland, but they were okay as a side bonus. I struggled finding just 1, I believe, while the rest were pretty simple to discover. However if you do miss any, there is a chapter mode after the episode and you can go wherever in that specific episode you want and search for stuff you’ve missed. I always fancy when such games have that option and I’m kind of sad that Telltale stopped doing it.
Gameplay-wise, half of episode 1 leaves the player freely doing what they want (most of the time), while past the point of running away with Rachel it gets a bit linear and closed. I do also enjoy the fact that the game doesn’t force you to do anything. You can choose to play the RPG game, you can choose to play Rachel’s games, you can choose to interfere in stuff or not. However, I am a bit disappointed with the core mechanic here. In the first season we had the time reversal thingy and that was so cool to play around with, so amazing to experiment with and it brought a unique look to the whole game. However, Before the Storm has none of that and instead it has a back talking mechanic, where Chloe engages into basically talking back to people, in order to achieve her goals. While it does suit her character, it provides a more bland player experience than the time reverse.
Last thing I will talk about are choices. Major choices were okay, as far as impacting goes … yet. I suppose it’s hard to tell what will impact what, before playing further episodes, however I didn’t see any major sudden changes in episode 1, based on a major choice I made. I suppose most are made to impact the game further on, rather than immediately. Same goes for all minor choices. Some, I believe would have some form of impact in the future. But that shall remain to be seen. As far as difficulty goes, most of them were easy for me, as I just went along with it. Some major choices made me consider whether I want to do the right thing or be the asshole, I want to be and I believe that is a good thing to be challenged.
As a verdict, I would give episode 1 from Before the Storm a 6/10. I am downgrading it a bit on the basis of: limited freedom in parts that matter; limited character development from all recurring characters, most of all Chloe; lack of engaging mechanic in place of the time reversal one; less impacting choices (for the time being) and last, but not least, drama elements that feel rushed and pushed. I really do hope I see improvement on those points in the future episodes and here is to Before the Storm attempting to score higher, but most of all providing players with an engaging experience. However I will say that the game remains beautiful graphically, choice of music is great and fitting and the writing is consistently great throughout the whole episode. However as an entry to a season, opposing it to how Life is Strange episode 1 fared, I’d say I would have expected more. Telltale’s Batman: The Enemy Within was a very strong season entry and while I did enjoy this episode in general as well, there was so much more that could have been offered to the player.