Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1: Awake
Episode one of Life is Strange: Before the Storm hit at the end of August. Fans of the original Life is Strange were split between being excited for this new instalment and skeptical about adding to a story that seemed otherwise nicely finished. I checked it out and, as a fan on the skeptical side of things, I braced myself for the worst. So what did I make of this prequel instalment of the Life is Strange Series? Come on in and find out!
My first arrival in Arcadia Bay Oregon in the original Life is Strange was surprisingly enjoyable. Having played the Telltale Games titles, I was familiar with the style of gameplay. Telltale Games' games are unique for their settings based on already existing fictional worlds from series like The Walking Dead, Game of Thrones, and more. Life is Strange, however, is set in an otherwise normal town, so what made Life is Strange special was Max and her ability to turn back time. Through this mechanic, characters and settings became special too, creating a feeling of mythos surrounding everything from Max's friends, animals, Arcadia Bay, and Rachel Amber's disappearance. Life is Strange wrapped up nicely, leaving just enough to question to not lose this mystical feel which made the series feel so special to begin with. So when I heard Life is Strange was getting another installment in the form of a prequel, I was more than skeptical.
But even with my skepticism firmly in place, returning to Arcadia Bay felt like returning to an old friend, complete with the quirks one might put up with purely because of that sense of growing up together. Sadly, just like the game before it, Life is Strange: Before the Storm is full of awkward animations and voice work. This always managed to hinder my immersion into the story, which is especially damning in a game so focused on story-immersion in the first place. I had hoped that these issues would have been addressed in Before the Storm, but it looks as if they're here to stay. Not fixing these issues feels especially unforgivable in this new game because they were so glaring in the original. However because of my familiarity with the series, they're something I've grown used to and am willing to overlook for the sake of the rest of what the game does right.
Before the Storm puts the player in Chloe Price's shoes, Max's rebellious friend from the main series. I was worried because, for me, what made Life is Strange so special was Max's abilities to turn back time and redo events. In the first few scenes of episode one of Before the Storm, it felt as if this mystical sense was gone, replaced by grungy barn concerts, drunken brawls, and Chloe's talkback ability, which I liked to describe as "out-edging" your conversation partner. Basically, you use Chloe's attitude and vocal cues from your conversation partner to get your way. It's by no means a stand-in for Max's ability, just as Chloe is no stand-in for Max.
There was always a lot to dislike from Chloe Price in the original games, but this time around my reasons for disliking her are different. While in the first game I disliked the parts of Chloe that were pushy and self-entitled, in Before the Storm I dislike the parts of Chloe that seem unrealistic. Max had a sense of friendliness that Chloe shares in some instances, but unlike Max, Chloe has moments where her characterization feels out of touch with how a rebellious teenager might act. Chloe acts tough, and I get that that's part of her character as a sort of self-defense mechanism, but I'm hard-pressed to believe that Chloe would be able to verbally destroy a concert bouncer or even her school principal, people who have been specifically trained to deal with people such as Chloe. It soon became clear that Chloe wasn't going to provide me with that mystical feeling I was looking for, and so my search continued.
Then it appeared to me in the form of Rachel Amber. Her disappearance in the first game became the game's driving force, and the player only ever learned about her through Chloe and what others at Arcadia Bay knew about her. Seeing her alive and well in Before the Storm felt like meeting a legend, and even Chloe was humbled in her presence. Even if it feels overboard, establishing Chloe as somebody who never backs down and fights her way through life really becomes an effective tool to show the player how strong Rachel's presence is when even Chloe backs down and follows Rachel without question. Together they skip school, jump onto a moving train, and steal alcohol. And while these actions feel intrinsically Chloe-like, Chloe herself opens up and feels like a real character again, filled with weaknesses and insecurities, all because she's spellbound by Rachel Amber
A Rocky Start but a Rocking Ending
The beginning of the chapter had its shortcomings, but it seems to have all been for the sake of letting Chloe and Rachel's characters interact and work off of each other. And where the beginning feels edgy and forced, the end of episode one is powerful, as if the inner anger and confusion hidden away in Rachel is finally let out from within the seemingly perfect girl in one fiery blast. Life is Strange is back and I can't wait to find what other mysteries Arcadia Bay has in store in the coming episodes.