If there’s one downside to an episodic format for a game, it’s that when the game is good, and you’re just starting out, the other episodes haven’t been released yet. The wait becomes worse than sitting around for the next episode of Sherlock. It was one of the things that kept me from getting Life Is Strange when it first came out, having heard it was a good game but not wanting to agonize about the forthcoming episodes. Having since played it after all the episodes were out, I can tell I’m going to suffer for Life Is Strange: Before The Storm in a way I didn’t for the first game.
(Fair warning, there are some light spoilers regarding both Life is Strange games ahead.)
Episode 1, titled “Awake,” takes us back in time to the days of Chloe Price’s life before her mother remarried, before she dyed her hair blue, but well after her father had died and her best friend Max Caulfield moved up to Seattle. As with the first game, the episode begins with a title card pointing out that the decisions you make will have consequences. New to the game is Chloe’s “superpower,” which turns out to be talking trash. Periodically, she’ll get into a battle of words with an NPC. By observing the environments and paying attention to what the other character is saying, she can pick options that are most effective to make her point for her. There is a time constraint, so you can’t agonize over the right cutting remark. Your wit will have to be fast to make an impression.
Visually, the game keeps the same art style as the original, and most of the characters look the same as they did before, though a few look subtly different to indicate that this is an earlier time period. Even having finished the first game, the “younger” version of Chloe occasions a moment or two of mild confusion as you see her with her natural hair color. But this passes quickly and you get on with enjoying the game.
Being an episodic game, it’s hard to make a judgment call about things like music. The score itself is decent, though there sometimes feels like a lack of differentiation between several themes. As for the licensed tracks, there are only a few, and they’re kind of hit or miss regarding how they tie into the game. We’ll have to see how it plays out in later episodes, particularly since the soundtrack for the original game was one of its better elements.
Also potentially troubling is the complete change of voice cast. On the one hand, some players are likely wondering why they couldn’t get members from the original cast to reprise roles (several characters, including Chloe, have new actors due to the SAG-AFTRA voice-over strike, which has since been resolved). On the other hand, there are so many different characters that it might have been more effort than would have been noticed.
The story for the episode feels about the same length as one of the episodes for the first game, which in some ways is a bit disappointing since there are only three episodes listed for Before the Storm, which will make for a much shorter experience if that trend continues. But, you sort of have to expect a different (and potentially shorter) story given what you know about the characters and what will eventually happen to them as shown in the original game. That is the danger of any prequel: the story has to match up reasonably well with the original story it’s supposed to be preceding.
Of course, it also gives you a degree of freedom when you’re playing. For myself, I found I was more restrained than the “original” Chloe was, particularly interacting with her mom and David. There was a sense that I at least ought to be trying to make things work, even if I knew those efforts were doomed to failure in the end. In the same vein, the episode’s opening scenes at a rock concert out in the boonies were likewise much more restrained. I got the feeling there were things I could do, but felt that it was just too much hassle. After all, the character was there to party, so why should I be creating drama? This did not stop me from laying a bottle upside a guy’s head when he was threatening Chloe, though the summary at the end of the episode indicated that there were choices not made which might have been interesting, or potentially hazardous, later on if the preview of the next episode was any indication.
If there are any shortcomings in the story from Episode 1, it’s in the way that the relationship between Chloe and Rachel Amber seems rushed. Going from partying at a rave in the woods to BFFs in the course of 24 hours is something which you’d more likely find in a Richard Linklater film than anywhere else. But the relative shortness of the full game probably has a great deal to do with that rushed feeling. If the game was going to be following a similar length as the original, it might make more sense to let things evolve more slowly, but we’re getting a side story here, so compressed time and actions are probably going to be the norm.
As it is right now, Life Is Strange: Before The Storm is hitting a lot of the same marks that the first game did. It’s definitely making me want to see how the other two episodes turn out, and if we might get a glimpse of the circumstances which lead to the mystery underlying Life Is Strange.
For those waiting in anticipation, Episode 2 can’t come out soon enough.
[Featured Image by Square Enix]