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Life is Strange: Before The Storm

Platform(s): PC, PlayStation 4, Xbox One
Genre: Action/Adventure
Publisher: Square Enix
Developer: Deck Nine Games
Release Date: March 6, 2018

About David Silbert

I'm a recent college graduate from Boston, MA. When I'm not writing for WorthPlaying, I'm probably researching Celtics trade rumors or struggling to keep up with the growing library on my Nintendo Switch.


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Xbox One Review - 'Life is Strange: Before the Storm'

by David Silbert on July 31, 2018 @ 12:45 a.m. PDT

Life is Strange: Before The Storm is three-part episodic, narrative-driven adventure game set in Arcadia Bay, three years before the events of the first game in the series.

Buy Life is Strange: Before the Storm

When the original Life is Strange, developed by Dontnod Entertainment, released episodically over the course of 2015, it carved out a niche for itself with its nuanced characters and unpredictable storytelling. The story of timid photographer Max Caulfield and her brash childhood friend Chloe was an emotional one, spanning five episodes and weaving together a narrative that was one-third high school drama, one-third action thriller, and one-third supernatural epic. Despite its many faces, Life is Strange was ultimately a coming-of-age story between two friends, each with their own share of personal baggage, and seeing the story play out to its heartbreaking conclusion made for one of the best adventure game experiences in recent memory.

Two years after the release of Life is Strange, publisher Square Enix followed up on the original story with a new entry in the sameuniverse: Life is Strange: Before the Storm. Developed by Deck Nine and set three years prior to the events of Life is Strange, Before the Storm puts players in control of Chloe Price and details her relationship with Rachel Amber, the tragic character who had long disappeared by the time of the original Life is Strange. Fleshing out the relationship of Chloe and Rachel, Before the Storm offers a fresh perspective within the Life is Strange universe and acts as both a prequel to the base experience and a complementary story to the adventures of Max and Chloe.

With its strong characters, entertaining set pieces, and great pacing, Before the Storm is a superb follow-up to the original game. While its ending is disappointingly rushed and its main antagonist underdeveloped, Before the Storm is an easy recommendation for fans of the series.

Right from the outset, Before the Storm establishes itself as a bold new chapter in the Life is Strange universe. Players take control of Chloe for the first time in the series; we hear her thoughts, participate in her personal relationships, and otherwise see the world of Arcadia Bay through her eyes. From her perspective, players begin the game in an environment Max would have never dared to explore: a run-down mill, frequented by thugs and drug dealers, where the band Firewalk is having a loud and boisterous concert.

From here, Before the Storm introduces its key story hook: Chloe meets the popular, 4.0 GPA, attractive Rachel for the first time, and both girls' lives change forever. Rachel was a character we had only heard of in passing during Life is Strange, so naturally, having her act as Chloe's partner-in-crime in Before the Storm is as rewarding as it is heart-wrenching. Together, Chloe and Rachel spend four days learning about each other's family struggles, all while planning their rebellious escape from Arcadia Bay once and for all.

Compared to Max and Chloe's quest to find Rachel and reveal the mystery behind her disappearance, the story of Chloe and Rachel has a much more wild, raw air to it. In many ways, Max had been Chloe's rock during the two's adolescence; with Max suddenly moving to Seattle prior to the start of Before the Storm, we see a vulnerable Chloe that not only has to deal with the loss of her father, but also the loss of her best friend. With the introduction of Rachel, Chloe finds a partner who brings joy back into her life, along with the turbulence, tension, and emotion that come with a close relationship.

Paired with Rachel, Chloe serves as a surprisingly refreshing protagonist, and her budding relationship with Rachel is perhaps even more intriguing to watch unfold than the one between her and Max in Life is Strange. Storytelling is what Life is Strange has always done best, and it should come as no surprise that it is Before the Storm's strongest asset as well.

Much of the success behind Before the Storm's story is due, at least in part, to the game's impressive presentation. In the two years between Life is Strange and Before the Storm's releases, Square Enix and Deck Nine have ditched the Unreal Engine in favor of Unity, and the results are night and day. The game looks crisper and cleaner. Pop-in is no longer an issue. Perhaps most importantly, lip syncing has been improved significantly; whereas Life is Strange frequently suffered from moments of uncanny valley, Before the Storm sells its characters in a much more believable, immersive way.

Voice acting is also a solid improvement over the original game. As terrific as Ashley Burch was as Chloe in Life is Strange, and as unfortunate as it was to see her leave due to the SAG-AFTRA strike, Rhianna DeVries does a great job inheriting the role. After the inherent jarring-ness of the switch wore off, I eventually came to think of Before the Storm's Chloe as the "real" Chloe. Kylie Brown is fantastic as Rachel, and practically everybody else who has come in to replace the original cast are winners (especially the actors for Chloe's mom and step-dad, Joyce and David). There are still some duds — Rachel's parents come across as particularly flat — but the overall strength of Before the Storm's cast goes a long way to making Chloe and Rachel's journey a believable one.

In line with its brasher themes, Before the Storm shakes up the gameplay in some interesting ways. Players still navigate different areas, talking with NPCs and investigating the environment for clues. However, this time around, Before the Storm incorporates a new dialogue system called "Backtalk." At certain points during especially heated dialogue moments, players can trigger a Backtalk sequence; this prompts Chloe to make use of her innate "ability" to make off-the-cuff retorts during an argument, opening up a high-risk, high-reward opportunity to progress the game forward.

Backtalk sequences consist of a brief minigame that tasks players with selecting pieces of dialogue that accurately link back to what an NPC had previously said. Early on, for example, Chloe can clap back against a bouncer inquiring about her bedtime by selecting either, "Your bedtime?" or "No bedtime," from a list of choices. Succeeding the encounter enables Chloe to walk into a concert, despite being underaged, while failing it requires her to sneak in through a back door.

While hardly as captivating as Max's superpowers, at least on paper, Chloe's "Backtalk" makes for several engaging encounters throughout Before the Storm. Sure, the stakes are never truly high; no one's life is ever at stake, and most failures do little to change the course of the overall narrative. Still, Before the Storm makes a genuine effort to reduce the repetition of navigating its dialogue trees. The result is a heightened pace that makes the whole experience far more entertaining.

Complementing Before the Storm's excellent pace is its brilliant set pieces. Whereas I had found Life is Strange to be a bit of a slog, especially during its first and last chapters, Before the Storm remedies this with some spectacular ways of freshening up the gameplay experience. Throughout the three-episode run, players will participate in a game of "Two Truths and a Lie," take on a spontaneous starring role in Shakespeare's The Tempest, and roll dice for "critical hits" in a tabletop game that not-so-subtly resembles Dungeons & Dragons. As captivating as many may find the original Life is Strange, Before the Storm goes above and beyond to make sure players are entertained from beginning to end.

Unfortunately, with Before the Storm's brisker pace comes some drawbacks. The shorter episode count leaves much to be desired in terms of story closure. The final episode in particular feels rushed, with many loose threads from the first game remaining unaddressed by the time the credits roll. Before the Storm also introduces a menacing new villain, and yet he's relegated to just a few key story moments, not to mention an underwhelming final scene that takes place mainly off-screen. The more I played Before the Storm, the more it became evident that the game needed an extra episode or two to deliver the satisfying conclusion that Rachel and Chloe's story deserved.

The physical version of Before the Storm also comes with a bonus episode, titled "Farewell." Lasting only about an hour, the extra episode sheds some light on Max's childhood friendship with Chloe, as well as the pair's emotional goodbye before Max moves to Seattle. While brief and not directed tied to the events of Before the Storm, "Farewell" is required reading for series enthusiasts and a welcome way to get some added insight into Max and Chloe's relationship.

In spite of its faults, Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a fantastic follow-up to an already great game. It improves upon the formula of the original title while offering a fascinating look into two of the series' most captivating characters. Beautiful, charming, and devastating, Before the Storm is a must-play for fans of the series and a phenomenal way to tide players over until the release of Life is Strange 2.

Score: 8.9/10

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