Life is Strange: Before the Storm
As soon as I finished Life is Strange I jumped on its prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm with a ravenous appetite.
I was slightly concerned because a different game studio, Deck Nine, had developed this title instead of Dontnod Entertainment. Also, Chloe was voiced by a different actor, Rhianna DeVries, instead of Ashly Burch. Would this turn out to be Life is Strange in name only, a pale imitation that would ruin the whole experience for me?
I needn’t have worried. This is a worthy addition to the series, and Rhianna DeVries does a masterful job, together with the rest of the cast.
In this prequel you play as 16-year-old Chloe. The plot revolves around her burgeoning friendship with Rachel Amber. There are no rewind powers this time, but you can use Chloe’s sharp tongue to argue with every authority figure you cross paths with, from Blackwell Academy’s principal to local crime overlords.
Apart from this, the game does not deviate from the formula of Life is Strange. Max is absent from the main story, addressed only in unsent letters Chloe writes in her diary. Below the disappointment and resentment for her best friend’s disappearance, the embers of their old friendship still burn bright.
Max’s photos are replaced by Chloe’s graffiti. No available surface is spared, including a masterpiece of Sistine Chapel proportions in Blackwell Academy girls’ restroom. It’s reproduced below, because I know that my discerning readership is very appreciative of the fine arts.
I found the plot just as gripping and interesting as in the first game. The knowledge of what happens next to the characters makes it even more poignant. There is also space for a session of role playing (a delightful story within the story) and, I kid you not, a Shakespeare play. Just not the full five acts.
We get to see Chloe roughly halfway through her journey from the death of her father to her reunion with Max. She is still studying at Blackwell Academy, but let’s say she is no longer a model of academic achievement. The void left by Max is soon filled by Rachel, the most popular student at Blackwell, perfectly voiced by Kylie Brown.
We get to see their friendship blossom step by step. Chloe is initially awkward and insecure around Rachel, who looks so incredibly perfect, although it soon turns out she has troubles of her own. The two get closer and start making plans to leave Arcadia Bay for good… but this is Life is Strange, and things are never so straightforward.
As a bonus, we also see the “rebirth” of Chloe’s old truck, almost a character in its own right.
Speaking of bonuses, the game also includes a bonus episode that takes us back to thirteen-year-old Max and Chloe spending their last day together. Max is trying to find the right moment to tell Chloe about her impending move to Seattle. Chloe is again voiced by Ashly Burch in this episode.
Be warned: emotionally, this episode is a kick in the guts even by Life is Strange standards. You may want to have some tissues ready.
Before wrapping up I have to mention the soundtrack, which if possible is even better than that of Life is Strange. It includes several licensed songs by various artists, plus a number of tracks written especially for the game by British band Daughter.
Why did I love Life is Strange and its prequel so much? For a number of reasons:
- The troubled, tormented and ultimately tragic character of Chloe is masterfully fleshed out. It shows how an event outside someone’s control (in her case, her father’s death) can derail a life and radically change someone.
- The budding friendship with Rachel, and the wounded but then rekindled friendship with Max, are entirely believable within the game world.
- There’s a painful contrast between the hopes and aspirations of these young women and the stark, cruel reality they are forced to face. Many of us saw their youthful dreams shatter against the experience of loss, betrayal and injustice, although (I hope) in less tragic ways.
This is no happy, feel-good, saccharine-infused story. It’s not a coincidence that there are online groups for post-Life is Strange depression. Yes, it’s officially A Thing™. I went through a bout myself. And yet I can’t wait to go back to Arcadia Bay, make different choices, explore every branch and hear every dialogue line, to relive the story of Max, Chloe and Rachel one more time.
Thankfully, additional material has been developed to
siphon more money off cater to the needs of Life is Strange fans.
A new instalment in the series, Life is Strange 2, has been released in 2018, with new characters and a new story. I have obviously played it and found it really enjoyable, but I regret to say that it hasn’t left as deep a mark on me as the first two games. I recommend it nonetheless, since it takes place in the same Life is Strange universe, and there are moving references to some of the characters of the previous episodes… no spoilers!
Finally, the first volumes of a series of comics have been published, telling the story of Max and Chloe after the end (well, after one end) of Life is Strange. Written by Emma Vieceli, with artwork by Claudia Leonardi and colours by Andrea Izzo, they are a worthy sequel. I’m reading them now and they haven’t disappointed.
Thank you for reading this far! If you also fell under the spell of Life is Strange, I’d love to hear from you!
Image credits: All images are screenshots taken from my copy of the game. Copyright of all game assets is owned by Deck Nine and/or Square Enix. Low resolution versions reproduced for commentary and criticism purposes, believed to qualify as fair use/fair dealing.