Life is Strange: Before the Storm continues apace, conjuring far more questions than answers in the second episode. With only one more full episode left in this prequel, is that a choice the developers can afford to make? Let’s review.
WARNING: Spoilers ahead for Life is Strange and Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episodes 1 and 2 if you haven’t played them yet, which you should. You can read thoughts on the first episode of Before the Storm here.
If you’ve ever thrown a really successful party, you know that after the party’s over, there’s the cleanup. For Chloe Price and Rachel Amber, the cleanup after their “party” might be a little more complicated. That sort of happens when you start a massive forest fire in a fit of anger after ditching school for the day.
Episode 2 starts players off in the office of Principal Wells, who is not particularly amused by Chloe and Rachel taking French leave of the campus. We meet Rachel’s parents “in person” as it were for the first time, and we see intimations of the same type of influence that allows kids like Nathan Prescott to (figuratively now, literally later) get away with murder. What’s interesting is that the degree of influence is muted. Rachel’s father has clout as the district attorney for Arcadia Bay, no question, but it’s nowhere near the sort of influence wielded so ruthlessly by the Prescott clan. As such, consequences are applied, with Chloe getting the worst of the deal. It doesn’t help that her mom and David both want Chloe to get her act together, but neither of them can actually agree on how she should be doing that.
This episode focuses primarily on the rapidly growing friendship and ambiguities of the relationship between Chloe and Rachel. The two of them see something in the other that they need, though it’s Chloe who seems to have more trouble articulating what it is about Rachel that makes her feel more “stable.” The duo ultimately make a spur-of-the-moment plan to leave Arcadia Bay behind (something which was hinted at in the original game), but need to get a few resources put together to start getting that plan put into motion.
We also get more information on some of the secondary characters, some of whom Chloe has run into already, and others she’s had only peripheral contact with. Friendly neighborhood drug dealer Frank seems to be the same surly yet gruffly personable lowlife from the first game and the previous episode, though it is quickly reinforced that Frank is running a business, and Chloe occupies a weird space between customer and close acquaintance. As was explored in the first game, the older students at Blackwell Academy have a modest little business in dealing drugs, with Frank as the chief supply source. But even Frank answers to somebody higher up the food chain, and his superior is a tattooed psycho named Damon (whom Chloe saw outside the rave in the first episode). When Frank tells Chloe that he needs her to collect from another student, you get the feeling that he’s asking Chloe as much for her discretion as her connections to the other students. Chloe might deliver sick burns if put into a tight spot, but Frank’s concern is that his boss will likely shatter some kneecaps to get what’s his, and that’s just not good for business. However much Frank might like Chloe, he’s still got a business to run, and he wants it run quietly.
The first episode played up the impending production of Shakespeare’s last play, The Tempest. The themes of the play seem to stand out more in this episode than they might have in the first one, particularly with Rachel playing a gender-swapped Prospero on stage, yet very much occupying the role of Miranda out in the real world, with Chloe possibly being her Ferdinand. Or perhaps it’s the other way around, which is equally plausible given the somewhat ambiguous nature of the developing relationship between the girls. If we take the plot and themes of The Tempest and apply them to Episode 2 (or even BTS as a whole), it suggests that there’s far more going on than what we’re seeing, that there are greater secrets yet to be revealed even beyond the bombshell ending of quite possibly the most uncomfortable dinner Chloe Price has ever sat down to.
As I played through this episode, I started to wonder more and more about how quickly things were progressing, and how that progression seemed to throw more and more mental stumbles into the established continuity from the first game. This story is set a few years before Life Is Strange, and there’s still a lot of head scratching about what happens between now and then. What it is that keeps Chloe and Rachel in Arcadia Bay until Rachel disappears, how Rachel and Frank ultimately end up together, and what happens to Chloe that makes her come to terms (however imperfectly) with her mother getting remarried. I really hope Deck Nine isn’t going to deliver a finale that feels rushed and explains little, only to ultimately gloss over those unanswered questions with their announced “bonus episode” where you return to play as a younger Max Caulfield. If we had four or more episodes to go, this sort of tension building would be good, assuming there was a great payoff at the end. We’ll find out with the conclusion in Episode 3 if the pacing choice pays off. But right now, Episode 2 only generates more questions than answers, and it doesn’t have a lot of time left.