What was easily one of my favorite games in all of 2015 is quickly rising to the top once again in 2017. Life is Strange: Before the Storm‘s first episode successfully delivers on the incredibly alluring mystique the first game brought, while adding new characters to help push the world forward, albeit as it goes back.
The first episode highlights the earlier life of one of the series’ most essential characters, and introduces one we have heard so much about but never seen. Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 “Awake” is everything I hoped it would be, with a few added surprises.
Life is Strange is back and its taking gamers into the past to tell Chloe Price’s story. As the first game so effectively illustrated, Chloe comes from an extremely difficult past, one which completely shapes the person we find in the first game. However, the first episode of the prequel grants players a light into her darkness, while seemingly introducing us to her first love.
I’ll say this now before going any further. For those of you who are trying to avoid spoilers regarding the first episode, you should turn around now. It does the game a disservice to speak in broad terms, so I’ll be getting specific to give the episode the review it deserves.
We first find Chloe in the middle of the wilderness, where she is searching for the Firewalk concert she has heard so much about. You must find a way to get into the event after the bouncer at the front refuses to let Chloe in. This is where we find our first Backtalk encounter in which you must persuade a given character to abide by your wishes.
This new feature comes into play throughout the entire episode, and it is a surprisingly effectively addition. Gamers must pick up on specific words or phrases a character says in order to successfully “win” the Backtalk. You’ll find these instances with characters like the bouncer, Principal Wells, David, Drew and others. I really enjoy the variety this brings to the Life is Strange formula, particularly since the Rewind feature isn’t in Before the Storm.
While at the concert, Chloe manages to steal a t-shirt and some cash, get into a confrontation with several bums, run into Frank, who she still owes money to, and unexpected encounter her presumed love interest, Rachel Amber. Much like it is throughout the entire episode, choice comes into play in a big way.
An example of this is the cash that Chloe steals. You can choose to give Frank the money she owes or you can save it. Those who choose not to give Frank the money have a different opportunity to put the money Joyce Price’s, Chloe’s mom, purse later in the episode. It is impressive how Deck Nine Games crafts empathy into the story. It’s nearly impossible not to empathize with these characters, particularly Joyce. When I found out I could give Joyce the cash later on, I felt terrible for giving it to Frank.
As Deck Nine would tell you, there are no right or wrong choices, just the ones you make. Had I know that was an option earlier, I would have gone with giving the cash to Joyce. However, that is part of what makes Life is Strange so unpredictable. What would have been if I hadn’t done this?
After Rachel and Chloe avoid a brief encounter with a couple of bozos, they find themselves front and center dancing the night away. The next day sees Chloe get from home to school, but during this time is a touching scene between Chloe and her mom. On one hand, gamers have the chance to make Chloe behave in a very bitter, angry and selfish manner. On the other, they can choose to show compassion, love and understanding for Joyce. Once again, the choice is yours.
I chose the latter and felt great as a result. In the same scene, gamers meet David Madsen, who is a Chloe’s step-dad in the first game, and in the prequel is just dating Joyce. He and Chloe have an exchange, and you can really see the difficult position David is in. Trying to act like a father to a girl who lost her father clearly is a burdensome task, and it comes across as such for David. Deck Nine perfectly illustrates the dynamics between him and Chloe here.
When Chloe gets to school she meets up with her friends Steph and Mikey. While she is there to snag a DVD from Steph, Chloe notices they are in the middle of a rousing tabletop game. I elected to have Chloe join the action, which leads to a fun sequence that ended with her character dying. RIP Callamastia, RIP.
Then after a bit of exploring I endured an encounter with Principal Wells, in which I didn’t fair so well with my Backtalk performance. While I didn’t earn the result I was looking for, it was great to see what happens when you fail a Backtalk instance.
Getting to what is clearly the main dish of this episode, the relationship between Chloe and Rachel takes center stage. They decide to ditch school and head out on an adventure. Led by Rachel, they hop on a train and eventually play a game, two truths and one lie. Players first must choose which of Rachel’s “facts” is a lie. After, it is their turn to designate the lies and the truths. I ended up losing both encounters, apparently I’m not a good liar, but it was fun to see the interplay between these two.
Eventually, they jump off the train and head to an overlook. This instance has them providing improvisational commentary as they spy on folks below thanks to a nifty viewfinder. Their chatter is spot on for what you would expect a couple of teenagers to say when mocking strangers. However, Rachel’s tone takes an abrupt turn at the end.
When this happened, I was incredibly confused as to the reason behind her sudden change in mood. As you experience it, you might think it’s a lapse in writing, but eventually the game catches you up on why her mood swung so much. Before that happens though, there is a neat moment where Chloe is driving with her Dad in a dream. He gives her reassurance that she has made a friend and that Rachel needs her. After this chat, we are finally given the exact reason for why Rachel was so upset.
Seeing one of your parents in the act of an affair would be incredibly upsetting for anyone. This gives the needed justification for why Rachel’s mood changed so quickly back at the overlook. It is a surprising twist that really helps bring the episode to its conclusion. Both characters open up to each other, which showcases a liberating vulnerability between them.
After a brief squabble, both girls apologize for things said during their trip to a junkyard. Episode 1 leaves gamers on a high note, despite a fiery mess the girls make. This sets Episode 2 up quite nicely, as both girls are trending in the direction of “something more” between each other.
I admit I was worried when I learned Deck Nine Games was developing the prequel and not Dontnod Entertainment. While they are working on the proper sequel, it still felt weird to have another studio handle the franchise. What if they got the tone wrong? What if they mess up explaining Chloe’s incredibly important past? And most importantly, what if the word “hella” isn’t in the game?
Well, I’m happy to say Deck Nine Games is off to an amazing start. You would never know a different studio is producing this game. It is a testament to the outstanding work they’ve done up until this point. Even with a change in actors for Chloe, she still brings the same fire and gusto from the first game.
It’s amazing to me how Life is Strange‘s scenes and stories continue to transcend the superficial notes other games are dragged down by. Through telling relatable stories, injecting believable dialogue and creating lovable characters, Life is Strange: Before the Storm hits so many of the notes that made the first game great.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 is available now on PS4, Xbox One and PC. Stick around here at We Write Things for more on Life is Strange. Square Enix provided We Write Things with a PS4 code of Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 for the purposes of this review.
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