Wed. Nov 30th, 2022

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enlarge / so far, Before the storm captures that meaningful teenage melodrama for them.

on his face, life is strange: Before the storm sounds like the most redundant prequel imaginable. The original game told the story of teenage duo Chloe and Max as they investigated the disappearance of Chloe’s best friend in Arcadia Bay in the Pacific Northwestern town. In the process, the couple rediscovered their own lost friendship and the many layers invisible to those around them. Oh, and player character Max happened to be able to rewind time.

Before the storm also rewind time – to three years before Max’s reality-bending and ultimately heartbreaking return. This time you play as Chloe to unravel her relationship with Rachel Amberthe girl whose disappearance was the start of the first game.

What made me so hesitant about Before the stormthe premise is that life is strange was full of revelations. At the end of the original game’s five chapters, we learn Rachel’s fate, how Chloe went from mathlete to punk in the years since Max left and back, and who to trust in Arcadia Bay. life is strange was an adventure game in the style of Telltale, where characters and choices were paramount. After all that, a prequel with a lot of that same cast didn’t seem to offer many opportunities to learn or room to grow.

Breaking out

After playing the first of Before the storm‘s three episodes, my prediction is correct. Almost everyone is an a-hole. Chloe’s future stepfather is, as expected, a militant misogynist. School bully Victoria Chase is… still school bully Victoria Chase. From the jump, almost every NPC asks Chloe questions, confronts, and otherwise dismisses them on topics ranging from whether she knows as much about cars as she says she does, to whether she deserves to go to the private school she left.

Here’s the thing: it totally works. While most non-player characters can’t show their more complicated sides, Chloe has plenty of room to grow.

This isn’t the confident, furious rebel that Max hooked up with in 2013. In 2010, when the prequel takes place, Chloe is just learning how angry she is at the world and how to express it. So she starts the episode thinking that sneaking into an “excessive” concert is the height of rebellion. But when Rachel, the most popular girl in school, suddenly takes an interest in her, Chloe drops everything to gain her favor.

Their budding friendship is shocking at first, but it should soon make sense, even for those who’ve never played before life is strange. Before the storm Quickly explains how alone Chloe is after her father’s sudden death and Max’s subsequent ghosting. Meanwhile, the prequel relies heavily on themes of sexual awakening (depending on your dialogue choices, of course). The first game only hinted at this, but to me Rachel is clearly ready to be Chloe’s first love. This gives much more weight to Chloe’s mutual interest in Rachel.

Rachel represents a lot for our main character – most of it unspoken but subtly teased with real-sounding teenage angst. By the end of the episode, when Rachel clearly wants to be left alone, Chloe takes it personally. She says she understands, that she knows how hard it is to be around, and that Rachel would be better off just leaving. To be precisely the kind of self-centered, self-deprecating, isolating statement I know I said or thought a thousand times in high school.

Many layers, not all in one place

To her credit, Rachel doesn’t let go of her own problems to ease Chloe’s worries. She gets mad and leaves, acting like a real person rather than a mere sounding board for Chloe’s luggage. That characterization is essential to understanding why Rachel is someone Chloe cares about.

In life is strangemost returning characters are flatter than the multi-layered representations shown in the original life is strange. Rachel, who was not seen in the previous game, does not encounter this problem.

But even the rest of Arcadia Bay’s flatness is put to good use. Before the storm doesn’t have Max’s time-rewind mechanics, but they aren’t all simple discussions either. The prequel unfortunately contains the name “Backtalk Challenges”, which allowed Chloe to roast the annoying townies around her.

Backtalk is basically offensive sword fighting in the tradition of Monkey Island but something more serious. Chloe can turn characters’ words against them by choosing offensive dialogue options that reflect the last thing they’ve said. They are timed and in most cases very stupid. No real-world teen has ever been as eloquent in smacktalk as Chloe Price.

But still… I liked the exchanges. Chloe puts up with a lot of crap from the one-dimensional awful people around her. The Backtalk Challenges serve as a good pressure relief valve against all that accumulated nonsense. For example, her mother’s boyfriend Dave insists on explaining how to fix a car engine, despite Chloe repeatedly explaining that her father has already taught her that. So when Dave tries to offer even more life advice, Chloe may decide she’s had enough of some excellent reprisals.

The challenges game-ify Chloe’s growing realization that most authority figures can’t force her to do anything. She grows from the wannabe punk at the beginning of Before the storm shown to the free-running petty criminal at the beginning of life is strange.

Necessary or not?

I suspect there will be consequences to that evolution. This first episode already hints that our heroine is getting involved in the more truly dangerous criminal element of Arcadia Bay – not to mention a few people who seem to be able to become dangerous just about their pride being hurt by a 16-year-old girl. But it’s still satisfying to help Chloe own a grieving micro-tyrant with a horrible mustache.

Ever since Before the storm is a prequel, but I’m more interested in watching Rachel and Chloe’s relationship develop than in worrying about any real physical danger. I loved life is strange for the way it let loose on and built on its characters, and Rachel and Chloe’s interactions provide plenty of room for more of that in Before the storm.

I was not sold on the premise of a life is strange A prequel first, but Rachel and Chloe capture the uneasy, us-versus-the-world energy and melodrama of the series. The Backtalk challenges could be a little less scripted, and I’m not too sold on the character interactions, aside from Rachel. That said, so far Before the storm is a thematically appropriate way to fill in the missing pieces from the original game.

The good:

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

The bad:

  • Some of the “backtalk” dialogues feel too scripted
  • Most of the supporting cast development can only begin 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 tries too hard to make her look like that.

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 curious if it can hold up once the timelines converge. Buy it.

By akfire1

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