Life Is Strange: Before the Storm—Episode One review: Going back

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Enlarge / So far, Before the Storm captures that meaningful-to-them teen melodrama.

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Steam | Official website

On its face, Life Is Strange: Before the Storm sounds like the most superfluous prequel imaginable. The original game told the tale of teenage duo Chloe and Max as they investigated the disappearance of Chloe’s best friend in the Pacific Northwestern town of Arcadia Bay. In the process, the pair rediscovered their own lost friendship and the many unseen layers to the people around them. Oh, and player character Max just happened to be able to rewind time.

Before the Storm rewinds time, too—to three years before Max’s reality-bending and ultimately heartbreaking return. This time you play as Chloe to unravel her relationship with Rachel Amber, the girl whose vanishing kicked off the first game.

insult swordfighting in the tradition of Monkey Island but slightly more serious. Chloe can turn characters’ words against them by picking insulting dialogue options that reflect the last thing they said. They’re timed and, in most cases, very silly. No teenager in the real world has ever been as eloquent at smack talk as Chloe Price.

Yet… I kind of liked the exchanges. Chloe puts up with a lot of crap from the one-dimensionally awful people around her. The Backtalk Challenges serve as a good pressure release valve against all that built-up crap. Her mother’s boyfriend, Dave, for instance, insists on explaining how to fix a car engine—despite Chloe repeatedly explaining that her father already taught her. So when Dave tries to lay down even more life advice, Chloe can decide she has had enough with some exquisite rejoinders.

The challenges basically “game-ify” Chloe’s growing realization that most authority figures can’t force her to do anything. She’s growing from the wannabe punk at the start of Before the Storm to the freewheeling petty criminal shown at the start of Life Is Strange.

Necessary or not?

I suspect there will be consequences to that evolution. This first episode already hints at our heroine getting wrapped up in the more genuinely dangerous criminal element of Arcadia Bay—not to mention a few folks who seem like they could become dangerous just over having their pride hurt by a 16-year-old girl. But helping Chloe own some mansplaining micro-tyrant with a terrible mustache is still gratifying.

Since Before the Storm is a prequel, however, I’m more interested in watching Rachel and Chloe’s relationship develop than worrying about any real physical danger. I loved Life Is Strange for the way it peeled away at and built upon its characters, and Rachel and Chloe’s interactions provide plenty of room for more of that in Before the Storm.

I wasn’t sold on the premise of a Life Is Strange prequel at first, but Rachel and Chloe capture the series’ uneasy, us-against-the-world energy and melodrama. The Backtalk Challenges could stand to be a little less scripted, and I’m not as sold on the character interactions, aside from Rachel. That said, so far, Before the Storm is a thematically appropriate way to fill in the original game’s missing pieces.

The Good:

  • Dialogue feels genuine, for a bunch of rebellious teens
  • Chloe and Rachel’s relationship touches on themes the first game glossed over
  • “Backtalk Challenges” are goofy but often satisfying

The Bad:

  • Some of the “backtalk” dialogue feels too scripted
  • Most of the supporting cast’s development can’t start until Life Is Strange

The Ugly:

  • It’s not always clear if Chloe is trying too hard to seem like a rebel or if the game is trying too hard to make her seem that way.

Verdict: Before the Storm is at its best when it focuses on the untold elements of Life Is Strange. So far, those moments capture the spirit of the original, but I’m anxious to see if it can hold up as the timelines converge. Buy it.

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