Life is Strange: Before the Storm Episode 1 (Xbox One Review)
Relationships, when depicted well, are some of the most interesting and compelling experiences to explore – even in games. When there’s more on the table than just a high score or a nameless planet, we find ourselves falling in love with the faces that colour the worlds we explore. Yet, Life is Strange: Before the Storm seems to capture all these elements but fails to hit the dizzying heights of its source; stripping away the rather obtuse end of the world Life is Strange presented while exploring the unseen relationship between Chloe/Rachel.
When we first met Max, and therefore Chloe, the landscape of point-and-click adventures was dominated by one behemoth: Telltale Games. We had sat with a Game of Thrones, discovered The Wolves Among Us, and ambled along with far too many seasons of The Walking Dead. Life is Strange was a cat amongst the pigeons, it was totally unique and set the bar just that bit higher. So, Deck Nine had some pretty big shoes to fill with Life is Strange: Before the Storm, and even with Dontnod Entertainment’s blessing, it wouldn’t be an easy ride.
Life is Strange: Before the Storm focuses on Chloe, the childhood friend of the original Max. Chloe: the aggressive counterpart to the ever doting Max; the blue haired punk that opened our eyes to a different world; and perhaps a potential partner depending on how we approached Life is Strange. Now as we step back in time, but not in the Life is Strange way, Chloe is the focus of our story. Shortly after the passing of her dad, we find Chloe struggling with her mother, Joyce, seeking solace in the arms of David – yes, that David. We are told all about Chloe’s problems, her unwillingness to attend school, and the fact that she is a tough as nails teenager that doesn’t take shit from anyone.
Even in the opening act of the first episode, these tropes are doubled down on as Chloe attends a punk gig in some rusty old barn, argues effortlessly with the bouncer, and finds herself buying weed. It’s the who’s who of generic bad teenager acts, coupled with some minor theft and more importantly the introduction of Rachel Amber. From there. the two bond; skipping school and sharing a bottle of stolen wine. Again, it’s another expected turn in a series that previously threw curveballs at us left, right and centre.
But, as we all know, we aren’t here for the teenage acts of rebellion. We are here for how we expect them to resonate with us. And, for me, Life is Strange: Before the Storm never did. The character of Chloe was the perfect devil on Max’s shoulder, pushing her towards the riskier choices in life and, at some points, providing emotional gut punches that even the clearest of crystal balls couldn’t have predicted. Now, when faced with Chloe as a central character, she feels very flat and unlikeable. Even before David came into her life, she was a bit of an angsty cow, forever lashing out at her mother and those around her. Obviously, there is good reason too, as it appears that Chloe never really received help coping with the loss of her father.
Although, it’s hard to really understand these motives, as Chloe pushes away everyone that considers her a friend. She has a conversation mechanic that literally encourages the player to argue and manipulate all the key conversations in her life, and her contribution to the world is literally defacing it. Where Max seen beauty and tried to right the terrible wrongs of the world, Chloe kicks back and proclaims it doesn’t understand her or that she is above it all.
It’s these mechanics and situations that really puts Life is Strange: Before the Storm at odds with the original. Dontnod’s production was a heartfelt and very twee experience about trying to do what was right or improving the world around you. It was steeped in mystery. Even though you got a very good explanation of everyone you would meet and a marvellous feel for how unique they were as characters, mystery still remained. We never actually knew who Rachel Amber was, we didn’t need to. We saw the pain in Chloe’s eyes and the lump in her throat. Life is Strange: Before the Storm takes those experiences away from us. It’s a sad but true fact that the most beautiful fact about a Jane Doe is that she is a Jane Doe: a beautiful corpse with no real name or placing. We are free to fantasise about who she was before and what she could become. That’s no longer possible.
Thankfully, it doesn’t mean Life is Strange: Before the Storm is bad, but the first episode pales in comparison to the original. With only three episodes in this venture, Deck Nine don’t have anywhere near as much time to play with as Max did, literally and figuratively. Arcadia Bay is still how you remember it and the voice acting isn’t bad either. Daughter provide a perfect set of tunes to accompany your journey and Before the Storm even creates a few scenic moments where the songs truly do shine. Chloe might not be likeable just now, but there are still two episodes left and I remain hopeful that Deck Nine can turn this one around