Life is Strange: Before The Storm
The first Life is Strange made its mark for showcasing the hardships of life and the parts about us we often hide from the world. The developers’ courage to pursue topics like grief and depression authentically is what made the series so special. Before the Storm continues to be brave and bold, presenting difficult situations similar to those we saw in the original. This prequel gives new insight into Chloe, showing her gaining confidence while she struggles with the loss of her father. With Rachel, a character we only heard about in the first game, we now know what was so unique about their connection and have plenty of their moments to cherish. Before the Storm’s greatest asset is how it builds a genuine relationship between its two leads, making you root for them and understand what they mean to each other as both their lives fall apart.
The tale takes place two years after the death of Chloe's father (and three years before she reconnects with Max). Chloe is testing her boundaries, sneaking out to concerts, and ditching school. It may be a cry for help, but it’s also the best way she can deal with her grief. Enter Rachel, a girl who seems like she has everything: She’s popular, gets good grades, and has an ever-present aura of confidence. Rachel is tired of it all, though; even if you seem to have it all, that doesn’t mean your life is perfect. The girls find each other at a time when they desperately need someone else to understand their struggles, and it’s a great reminder of how listening to someone can go a long way.
Before the Storm’s biggest accomplishment is how Deck Nine developed one of the most genuine relationships I’ve seen displayed between two women in a video game. Since this was only a three-part arc, some episodes seem rushed (especially the finale), but Deck Nine creates a bond and makes you care for Chloe and Rachel as individuals and a pair. The writers also offer plenty of moments to accentuate their connection, from Chloe and Rachel’s performance in a play to Rachel’s disastrous family dinner with only Chloe there to help her pick up the pieces. Watching Rachel and Chloe’s relationship unfold is the core of the experience, but it isn’t perfect in its depiction. After knowing each other for only a few days, Chloe and Rachel’s relationship progresses at an accelerated rate, but the chemistry is there from the beginning so it doesn’t feel completely out of left field.
I also wish we saw more about how they had their falling out from the first game, and how Rachel eventually gets involved with Frank, but I’m also okay that the writers chose to showcase the early blossoming of this beautiful friendship. Before the Storm makes me feel for Chloe more than I ever did, and I now care about Rachel, who was merely an ephemeral, missing girl in the original Life is Strange.
The bulk of the game centers on dialogue choices and some simple puzzles, where you locate items in the environment and put them to use. A new “back talk” option gives you a way to act out as Chloe and talk your way out of situations. This mechanic feels out of place in some instances, as her reactions are so over-the-top, but it becomes toned down as the story goes on.
Unlike Max, Chloe doesn’t have supernatural rewind powers, so Before the Storm is grounded in reality. This forces you to own your choices, for better or worse. Your decisions may not completely alter the narrative, but you get little callbacks that make them satisfying, like another round of D&D or seeing that stealing wine actually turned out to be a good thing. The hardest decision comes at the end of the game, and it builds on the themes of growing up and living a facade. The game doesn’t judge you for this choice, but it says a lot about your vision for Chloe’s character and her relationship with Rachel.
Before the Storm made me care about Chloe and Rachel, giving me backstory into both of their lives before Max comes back. The journey is bittersweet, knowing the tragic events from the first game for both characters. As a prequel, Before the Storm succeeds because it tells its own story that leaves you content, while also connecting to the original game in a meaningful way. Deck Nine may not have a hand in the original, but it made sure to do Chloe and Rachel’s story justice, capturing the essence of Life is Strange while providing plenty of nods to fans.