This review contains spoilers for Life is Strange and Life is Strange: Before the Storm.
DONTNOD’s indie time travel adventure game Life is Strange has sold over three million copies since its release. While a sequel is in the works, Deck Nine games have produced their own game, a prequel in three parts to cover how Chloe Price met Rachel Amber during Max’s absence.
The game begins with Chloe sneaking into an old mill to see one of her favourite rock bands, FireWalk (a Twin Peaks reference). There she collides with some shady characters and Rachel appears and rescues her. The next day, the two skip school together and grow closer, a bond that is ultimately cemented when Rachel discovers something shocking about her father.
The mechanics of Life is Strange: Before the Storm work in exactly the same way as the original game, you walk around, interacting with objects and people. Unlike Max, Chloe doesn’t have a time travel ability, but you still make big decisions which affect how the game unfolds. Chloe also has a ‘backtalk’ ability, in which you have to select the right option from multiple dialogue options within a short time limit in order to win an argument.
Where Max would take photographs of various scenes throughout the original game, Chloe’s option to interact with her environment is graffiti spots located throughout the game which I thought was a nice reflection of her personality as Chloe likes to creatively reinterpret the world to her own style. The game also lets you choose the kind of graffiti you want to make which is a nice bonus. This isn’t mandatory to the game in any way but it’s a nice extra designed to encourage you to explore each environment you’re in more thoroughly.
Anyone who played Life is Strange will know that Chloe’s relationship with Rachel was incredibly important to her, so it’s not surprising that their relationship forms the heart of this game. I was pleasantly surprised that Before the Storm doesn’t skirt around Chloe’s sexuality or her feelings for Rachel, and you have the options to express a desire for ‘something more’ and to kiss Rachel at points in the game. Rachel also calls Chloe ‘cute’ and ‘hot’ at multiple points in the game and their big Shakespearean moment feels like a romantic declaration. Although they get more in the way of flirtatious and romantic interaction than Chloe and Max, it would be nice if it had been more explicit e.g. use of the words girlfriend, lesbian, bisexual etc.
Before the Storm isn’t without its flaws. Many of the characters from the original game make a return – Joyce, David, Nathan, Victoria and Principal Wells, and many of them feel well realised in relation to their characterisation in the original game, especially Joyce’s ongoing struggle to help Chloe and try to move on herself. There are odd inconsistencies though – David is presented as an abusive character in Life is Strange but Before the Storm repeatedly tries to present him as a heavy-handed but sympathetic character who you even have the option to forgive and be nice to on multiple occasions. This is one of many choices that seems completely pointless as anyone who has played Life is Strange will know that chronologically, Chloe is at odds with David by the time Max returns, so it makes no difference if you choose to attempt to build bridges with him in this game.
Rachel is a core character in Before the Storm and the first two episodes focus primarily on her and Chloe and their relationship, but this is pushed to the background in episode three with Rachel’s family drama taking centre stage, and it’s not clear why. From the end of the first episode it is hinted that Rachel’s fire starter moment and her potential supernatural powers will be the main focus of the story, especially in relation to the appearance of the crow and Chloe’s bizarre, premonition-like dreams. But episode three seems to drop this entirely even though it could have been used to explain why Rachel and Chloe stayed in Arcadia Bay when they both had the means and the determination to leave.
Another upsetting moment was the post-credits scene which hints at Chloe desperately trying to get hold of Rachel who is trapped in the Dark Room. This event takes place after Before the Storm, and not only will confuse people who have only played Before the Storm but upset those who have played Life is Strange. Anyone who has already played Life is Strange knows Rachel’s fate, so to remind them of it seems cruel and unnecessary, particularly as Before the Storm had just finished with a happy Chloe/Rachel summer montage. I don’t understand why anyone would think this scene was a good idea, particularly at the end of an episode that didn’t even resolve Rachel’s own supernatural powers storyline.
If you’re a Life is Strange fan debating whether to play this game I would say it is worth it, if you’re prepared to accept that the final episode is a big letdown for the potential that had been built up. I’ve read that many things were cut from the finale including a potential explanation for Rachel’s supernatural powers, which is hugely disappointing if true. That said, this game offers a well-characterised teenage Chloe and her relationship with Rachel is hugely satisfying to finally see. For me, this game is worth playing for their beautifully blossoming story alone and it still offers some wonderful scenes worthy of the Life is Strange universe…even if it sadly loses itself to melodrama towards the end.