Reviewed on: Playstation 4. Copy supplied by publisher.
A prequel to the almost universally adored Life is Strange, Before the Storm is a smaller outing this time, consisting of only three episodes. It focuses on Chloe as the protagonist, as well as Rachel, a name anyone who’s played the original game will be very familiar with.
Rachel was the girl who went missing in the first game, and Before the Storm serves as a clever prequel that not only delves deeper into fan favourite Chloe, but also the world surrounding her, and Rachel herself, a girl we never met before, but become so emotionally invested in.
Lacking the crazy time powers of Max, BTS instead doubles down on dialogue, as Chloe’s skill comes in the form of manipulating people with her words, and using her backtalk skills to shape peoples’ perceptions and opinions. It’s an interesting mechanic, but it hardly stands up against the original game’s well handled time manipulation. In fact, the entire game feels as if it’s constantly struggling to live up to the previous game, not only in gameplay mechanics, but in presentation, writing, and voice overs.
The story here is far more grounded than the first game, lacking any of the fantasy elements of before (although there is a cool section featuring a D&D board game, and some trippy dream sequences). This omission has a negative effect in more than one way, though. It affects the possibilities with the story, being limited to more realistic content, and it also affects the user interaction.
In the original game, it was possible to drastically affect the world and the people around you, then, if you so wished, quickly zip back in time and try things another way. Not only did this give you the chance to see all possible outcomes, but it also opened up the door for some clever time-based puzzle content and gameplay. BTS has none of this, and although the dialogue itself is still solid enough, and the story is at times very compelling, the general lack of interaction other than picking lines to say, or items to find when wandering, makes things feel even more like a simple, interactive movie, and less of a game. That’s not to say there’s no challenge. The dialogue system is tricky at times, and you have to evaluate the situation carefully if you wish to go for a specific outcome.
Mechanics aside, the actual story here is still top notch, if not up to the heights of the original. Chloe was always a deep, interesting character, and this hasn’t changed here. Sure, she still walks that line of clichéd queen of teenage angst, but underneath she is a genuinely interesting girl, and her interactions with the world always feel real and have impact on her development. This is no more evident than her time with Rachel, a definite highlight of the series, and an arc that actually does the opposite of what fans had worried about. There was a concern that meeting Rachel following our experiences in the original game would water down her mystery and allure. BTS does anything but, and instead enhances the events of the original game now that we know more about her and her relationship with Chloe. It’s every bit the emotional journey we experienced in the first series, and is some ways, even more.
We also meet several other characters from the first series, specifically Chloe’s family, and we get a more detailed peek into her family history than just focusing on the pivitol events seen in the first series. And this, as with Rachel, only sets up any replays of the original, and means you’ll revisit the first game with a different take on events and better insight.
Sadly, presentation of all of the story isn’t up to the level of the first series. Although it looks similar, there’s a genuine lack of detail compared to Max’s adventure, and even familiar locations look different and less fleshed out. The change in voice actors due to the voice actor strike is also noticeable. This is especially true for Chloe, who is no longer voiced by Ashly Burch. Although by no means bad, Chloe’s personality isn’t the same because of this. And with absolutely no disrespect to Rhianna DeVries, who voices Chloe this time, it’s the same result as Kiefer Sutherland replacing David Hayter as the voice of Snake in Metal Gear Solid V. Kiefer was obviously good, but he just wasn’t Hayter.
All in all, though, Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is still a thoroughly enjoyable adventure, and one that has a decent story to tell, it’s just not on par with the, admittedly, difficult to follow original.