Dontnod’s Life is Strange is the first game I reviewed for this site (or ever), and was one of my favorite games of the year it came out. Sure, it’s difficulty curve was wonky and it’s dialogue stilted, but the story and characters were some of the best I’ve seen in a video game. I’ve been hyped for Deck Nine’s sequel since it was announced, so of course I jumped at the opportunity to play and review it.
Although you played as Max Caulfield in the first game, the prequel stars Chloe Price, the angst-fueled ally character of the original. The game starts with her sneaking out, breaking curfew, playing chicken with a train, climbing over a no trespassing barrier, and flipping it off. For the crowd that hasn’t played the original game, this is a good introduction to Chloe’s character. She acts similar to the way she did in the original, but you know she still has a ways to go until she gets there. She hasn’t dyed her hair and made her full transition into delinquent punk, and the decorations in her room are very different from the ones you see two years later.
Chloe quickly reveals that she’s sneaking out to see a concert, but she’s stopped at the door by the bouncer. After introducing a new mechanic that we’ll visit in the next section, she gets inside. Here we see a familiar face, Frank Bowers, but more importantly there’s someone we know, but never had the pleasure of meeting. This is where the famous Rachel Amber and Chloe Price first meet. She leads her to the mosh pit where they presumably have the night of their lives.
The next morning is spent in familiar locations with familiar characters. We return to Chloe’s house, where we meet her mother Joyce and future “step-shit” David, and then go to Blackwell where we see familiar faces such as Victoria, Nathan, Principal Wells, and Ms. Grant. We’re also introduced to some new faces such as Eliot, Mikey, and Steph. Deck Nine did a great job making a familiar environment somewhat new to us by taking us two years into the past.
Once inside the building, we meet Rachel Amber once again. This is the moment returning fans were waiting for. Chloe’s relationship with Rachel drives the plot of the original (despite Rachel not being present throughout), and since the game was announced we’ve been looking forward to seeing the two of them together. Fortunately, Deck Nine didn’t disappoint. The chemistry between them is obvious and immediate. Much to Chloe’s surprise, Rachel invites her to skip class with her, and the rest of the episode becomes Rachel and Chloe’s Day Off.
Despite the fact that they only spend one day together, that day contains the highs and lows of a year long relationship within it. They meet, become closer, get to know each other, get in fights, fall out, make up, confess feelings towards each other, have breakdowns, share deep secrets, and start a forest fire. Yes, I did rush through the better half of the episode because we’re already over 500 words in, but a couple paragraphs couldn’t do the whole thing justice. So much happens in such a short period of time that you need to play the game to get the full impact.
Initially, gameplay is remarkably similar to the original. You can walk around in a 3D environment and interact with people or objects. People or objects that you interact with are highlighted, and interacting with them can give you information that you need to proceed (but it usually won’t). However, there are two major mechanics that replace the old ones. Because Max isn’t here, there’s no rewind power to play with. Instead of rewinding your way through conversations to get the desired outcome, every once in a while you’ll get to engage in “backtalk”, where you rely on quick wit to maneuver your way through a heated conversation.
The first backtalk, the bouncer stopping you from getting into the concert, gives you a good introduction. After hearing the other person talk, you’ll be given a couple dialogue options, and have to choose one relating to a keyword in the other person’s sentence. This is timed, so you have to think on your feet, but they’re all fairly easy and I’m not actually sure what happens if you lose one. Despite being the pinnacle of “no one talks like that”, backtalk is fairly entertaining at times, rewards exploration by giving you extra dirt to use on your opponents, can often be avoided if you’re not up for it, and doesn’t happen enough to be intrusive or annoying.
The other mechanic replaces the “photograph” achievements from the original. Chloe isn’t into photography, so instead she carries around a marker that she uses to draw graffiti over various locations in game. Much like the optional photographs, each of these gives you an achievement, but doesn’t do much other than that. Which is exactly how achievements should be.
Unfortunately, Ashly Burch could not reprise her role as Chloe Price. However, the new voice actress Rhianna DeVries does a great job and sounds almost eerily similar. The art style is very similar to the first game, but everything looks a little bit better. The music, just like the original, is amazing and complements whatever feel the scene is going for perfectly. I’d highly recommend giving it a listen here.
Much like the original, Chloe has a notebook that she writes in. Here, you can keep track of everything you tagged, read her thoughts on the other characters, check her text messages, or read her diary. This is where the game gets more interesting. As the first game is centered around the relationship between Max and Chloe, the first few episodes focus on how the former essentially abandoned the latter. Chloe’s still feeling the impact of this, and this is shown mainly through her journal. In her texts, you can see that Chloe regularly tries to contact her, but Max is either incredibly late to reply or doesn’t even bother. Instead of writing “Dear Diary”, Chloe addresses her journal entries to Max, and occasionally points out how she abandoned her. It’s amazing how so much of Chloe’s character can only be revealed through completely optional game elements, and it forces the player to dig a little deeper to feel closer to Chloe’s character.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm is exactly what we wanted. We get to see the past of a character we already love, and see the backstory of a girl we never got the chance to meet. Because it’s a prequel, the game is loaded with dramatic irony, most of which is incredibly depressing based on what we know about Chloe and Rachel. This only forces us to enjoy the time we get with her, and try to make the best of a story we already know the ending to. It also does anything a sequel should do: it expands and honors what we know of the original, as well as improves upon everything.
This is one of those games where I finished part one and immediately wanted more. As soon as I finished episode one, I tried to find out when episode two would come out. The last half hour of episode one is incredibly emotionally charged, and I have to give a ton of credit to the voice actresses and musicians for almost making me cry and perfecting the ending.
As only a third of the game has been released, I’ll hold off on giving it a score for now. Stay tuned here at Sick Critic for parts two and three as soon as the respective episodes come out.