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Life is Strange Before the Storm Full Review: Small-Scale Apocalypses

Overview

Life is Strange was a “big” apocalypse; tangible and deadly. When an apocalypse is brought up, most people think of something even bigger than a measly storm that will wipe out a single town, most people think some biblically-awesome disaster that wipes out most or all of the population. Look at the history of the word, however, and you’ll find that it comes from the Ancient Greek word “apokálupsis”, or “revelation”. Before the Storm, episode 3 especially, is full of small but still powerful revelations. Life is Strange has always been about apocalypses, they’re just more personal this time.

The seeds are sown back in the first episode. David, Chloe’s future stepfather, is introduced. Rachel and Chloe (while skipping school) catch Rachel’s father with another woman. Frank already exerts a bit of a pull over Chloe. Brothers Drew and Mikey introduce themselves in ways that don’t tell much more than “we’ll be important later”. We meet Eliot, who’s a bit too into Chloe. We find that Chloe’s already on thin ice with Principal Wells, on the verge of being expelled. On a larger scale, Rachel starts the forest fire that we get a front seat viewing for throughout the next two episodes. This, of course, is a representation of the game’s main theme. Is an impulsive decision in a moment of anger worth starting a blaze that will impact dozens of humans and hundreds of animals? Is a revelation worth the apocalypse that inevitably comes after?

I do hope you’ll excuse me if you’re reading this and only see an analysis essay thus far. While a game like Wolfenstein exists to give blatant social commentary paired with gratuitous, over-the-top violence and A Hat in Time intends on giving you a fun challenge with a super-cute aesthetic; games like Life is Strange find their value almost entirely in the message they send and the questions they make you think about. Between that and the fact that the gameplay hasn’t changed much since episode one, all I can really do here is discuss whether or not the game succeeds in its message.

As per basic plot structure, act episode two builds on the threads introduced in episode one. Chloe is either suspended or expelled from Blackwell. David moves in with Chloe and her mom. Frank convinces Chloe to break into the boy dorms and steal the money that Drew owes him. On the way, you can break into Eliot’s room as well and see that he’s been googling your name. I’ll keep the Drew and Mikey plot details to a minimum for spoiler reasons, but some revelations about their past turn a morally ambiguous character to a sympathetic one, adding to the complexity of the “is the revelation worth it?” question. All the while, the fire blazes in the background.

At the very end of episode two, Rachel confronts her father about the woman she saw him with at the park, and at the beginning of episode three, the first of two revelations occurs. Once the very cool scene through which it’s told is done, Rachel runs up to her room, and Chloe follows her. She tries to cheer her up by jury-rigging a night sky display onto her ceiling with a flashlight and one of these, to which Rachel points out that even the night sky is a lie, as many of the stars we see died millions of years ago. She then brings up the second major question the game asks us to consider: maybe it doesn’t matter if the stars are all dead. We can see them, so that makes them real. If all you’ve known are lies, does it even matter what the truth is?

As per basic plot structure, act episode three is when the revelation-bombs start dropping and the narrative turns apocalyptic. If you plan on playing this game, SKIP THIS PARAGRAPH as I will be spoiling basically all of it. You weren’t the only one sent to collect the money from Drew, Damon Merrick was also sent and hospitalized Mikey when he couldn’t get the money. You encounter him in the junkyard, where he hospitalizes Chloe as well. The woman who raised Rachel isn’t her real mother. Eliot is a stalker obsessed with Chloe. Rachel’s father is working with Damon Merrick to permanently keep Rachel’s real mother away from her. This final revelation leads into the big choice of the episode.

If you skipped over the last paragraph, then you should know none of what’s listed above will end the world. Can it end someone’s world though? Yes. The stars are dead, and the final choice of the game is whether or not to kill them. It’s up to Chloe and the player to decide whether the right choice is to tell the truth and end Rachel’s world, or lie to her to protect it. If we can see the dead stars, does that make them real? Is a revelation worth the apocalypse that inevitably comes after?

Gameplay & Presentation

As it’s the same game, not much has changed since I reviewed episode one. Because there’s not much left to say, I’m condensing the two sections into one paragraph.

In the original game, you mostly dealt with opponents by rewinding to avoid them entirely, to gain new knowledge to use against or persuade them, or just to retry something you messed up on. Chloe has no such power, and she uses a mechanic called “backtalk” to directly confront people. It’s built around using their own words against them, it perfectly fits her character, blah blah blah I talked about this earlier. Much like the original, the story is driven by choices you make throughout the game, blah blah blah I talked about this earlier. I bring this up because episode three only features one instance of each of these, foregoing verbal challenges and tough choices to instead focus on puzzles and dialogue. Does it work? Well, it doesn’t not work, and while I’d prefer more of what are basically the defining features of the game, the apocalypses surrounding you keep you entertained enough that you don’t notice too much.

It’s Life is Strange. The graphics are the same pleasantly cel-shaded fare. The voice acting ranges from decent to terrible, and a lot of the time the characters will look incredibly exaggerated or sometimes downright narmy. It’s Life is Strange, it wouldn’t be the same without questionable character interactions. You could say I’m being to forgiving here, and maybe I am, but it doesn’t detract from the game enough to warrant me getting angry about it. Regarding the soundtrack: it’s decent, although a little lacking in the third episode, and I don’t think I’d rate it above the original game’s OST. It’s not bad by any means but I think they could’ve done better.

Conclusion

Again, I mentioned it in the review of episode one, but if you’ve played the original, the entire game is permeated with a sense of dread and even helplessness because of what we know is going to happen to Rachel before the events of the first game. I like this. It’s good, and this kind of dramatic irony deserves to be used in any kind of prequel. What stands out to me, though, is how you still care so much about a character who’s going to die in less than three years anyway. The big apocalypse is coming, we know this. We still try to protect our loved ones from all the little ones along the way.

As I said, the value in a game like this lies in its capability to deliver its message. In that, I think it succeeded. Through the final choice, the game forces you to reflect on the two questions it raises throughout its story while keeping you engaged throughout the 9 hours of playtime. My main problem that I haven’t yet brought up is the length, I have 11 hours logged from playing through the whole game once and the first episode a second time. Of course, the choice-based nature of the game and the two endings lead to much more replayability; and it’s much better to have a 9 hour game you can play twice than a 15 hour game that drags on and makes you never want to play again.

All in all, this game ties with the original Life is Strange and gets a final score of 8.5/10.

This review of Life is Strange Before the Storm is based on the PC version of the game.

Overview Life is Strange was a "big" apocalypse; tangible and deadly. When an apocalypse is brought up, most people think of something even bigger than a measly storm that will wipe out a single town, most people think some biblically-awesome disaster that wipes out most or all of the population. Look at the history of the word, however, and you'll find that it comes from the Ancient Greek word "apokálupsis", or "revelation". Before the Storm, episode 3 especially, is full of small but still powerful revelations. Life is Strange has always been about apocalypses, they're just more personal this time.…
A story of miniature apocalypses as a larger one blazes in the background.

Ill

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8.5

A story of miniature apocalypses as a larger one blazes in the background.

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Ill
  • 8.5/10
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