The original Life is Strange was an unexpected success. Created by developer Deck Nine and published by Square Enix, the episodic series was both emotional and inventive. Without spoiling the original game, the main character Max and her best friend Chloe investigated some mysterious happenings around their home town, Arcadia Bay. Life is Strange embraced visual beauty and artistic expression through storytelling. The new prequel, Life is Strange: Before the Storm follows Chloe, and is more grounded in standard teen woes. As a three episode series, let’s see how Episode One: Awake sets things up.
Since Life is Strange: Before the Storm is much like a Telltale produced game, the main gameplay revolves around progressing through dialogue and unraveling the story. In fact, Episode One: Awake is mainly narrative content instead of pure game play, so I’ll do my best to keep it vague.
The game follows Chloe, a character fans of the original game have come to love. A punk rock rebellious teen, Chloe takes no crap and dishes plenty out herself. Chloe goes to school at Blackwell Academy, an expensive school for those lucky enough to attend it. Like most teens, Chloe has a taste of rebellion and takes it out on the world around her. Taking place before the original game, Chloe deals with feelings of abandonment from her childhood friend Max. In addition, she has trouble making any new ones, often finding solace in punk rock music, drugs, and a general disdain for everything around her.
Teenagers Scare the Living Sh*t Out of Me
No, the My Chemical Romance lyrics were entirely intentional. Much like the aforementioned band, many could view Chloe’s story as typical teenage angst combined with some swear words. However, as the story progresses, it’s easier to understand why Chloe is so mad at the world. The girl has been through some hard times, and the world keeps knocking her down.
The voice actors do a decent job filling their roles, with Chloe being an obvious stand out. Overall, the voice work is decent, skewing between melodramatic delivery and surprisingly believable banter. The melodrama isn’t completely the fault of the voice actors though, as the script has a tendency to be over indulgent in terms of drama. Additionally, the word choice is all over the place, but this is something we saw in the original Life is Strange as well. Some of the character-to-character dialogue feels absolutely plastic; a representation of what teens supposedly talk like. When the writers aren’t attempting to drop lines like “Oh, that’s weak sauce!” or a flurry of try-hard insults, Episode One manages to strike some emotional chords.
A Soft World of Wonder
As a franchise, Life is Strange consistently impresses me in one department, art design. The graphical fidelity isn’t going to blow you away. In fact, some episodes of recent Telltale games (like Guardians of the Galaxy Episode 2) have much more defined and detailed environments and characters. Life is Strange has serviceable textures, but excels in atmosphere and use of lighting. The cinematography is also incredibly well done, with countless scenes being “screenshot worthy”. The actual art style is similar to the iconic Telltale Games’ style but with a noticeably softer feel. With great use of color and lighting, the art direction perfectly evokes the feeling of small town USA.
The Touches that Make it Wonderful
The game is a visual treat for those with a weakness for beautiful nature. This powerful art direction is only strengthened by the attention to detail and small touches apparent throughout the episode. For example, reviewing your objective brings up Chloe’s left hand, where your next step has been scribbled in marker. If you’ve ever been in class and jotted something down on your hand (locker combination, phone number, secret note), a small touch like this can bring back waves of nostalgia for high school.
Yet, Life is Strange: Before the Storm does what the original did so well. It takes all of the artistic options available to it and forms a tangible atmosphere. The original game was a bit more creepy and weird, and Life is Strange: Before the Storm replaces those feelings with those of Americana, the long open road, and what it means to be young. The game has a haunting score; slow, relaxing guitar pings throughout scenes of the vast wilderness surrounding Arcadia Bay. It’s picturesque, full of ripped jeans, flannel shirts, and rebellious attitude. It also dares to be truly beautiful.
The Bottom Line on Life is Strange: Before the Storm – Episode One: Awake
The first episode of Life is Strange: Before the Storm does a good job setting the stage. I won’t spoil anything for you, but know that the more magical aspects of the original game are not here. Without Max, there’s no puzzle sequences wrapped around her abilities, leaving out a noticeable bit of pure game play. These have been replaced by “Backtalk Challenges”, which are slightly ridiculous dialogue challenges.
The story of Chloe feels true, and it’s worth experiencing. Fans of the original game will definitely want to play it, no questions asked. Before the Storm is a more passive experience, and could use a gameplay hook like Max’s (besides the silly Backtalk Challenges). The story being started here is definitely founded in the ideas of rebellion caused by tragedy, and therefore is pretty depressing. Sure, the game borders on melodrama, but even these somewhat laughable parts don’t detract from the truly saddening character themes.
The first episode will take you anywhere from 2-3 hours to complete, depending on whether or not you seek out the hidden graffiti tagging spots. These can also be found after completing the game, in a “collector mode” wherein your character choices will not affect the rest of the story. The writing has a tendency to channel soap opera drama, that which makes the overzealous “teen attitude” voice acting humorous at times. This doesn’t detract from the overall experience, but I can’t say the story is flawless. Unlike the original Life is Strange, I’m not completely sold yet, but I’m definitely interested in where Chloe’s story will take us. If you’re a fan of the original game, definitely get it this prequel. If you like Telltale adventure games (Guardians of the Galaxy, Batman, Walking Dead), you’ll probably also enjoy it. If anything, the game is gorgeous in its display of tone.
Note: This game was reviewed on an Xbox One with launch day patches.