Feeling Hella Good
Game: Life Is Strange: Before The Storm Episode 2: Brave New World
Developer: Deck Nine
Publisher: Square Enix
Reviewed on: XBox One (Review code provided)
Already, Before The Storm has successfully carved out its own unique place in the Life Is Strange universe, being both reassuringly familiar to fans of the original series, but also different enough to feel like more than just a simple re-tread of what came before. This second instalment may start off slow, but offers some great set-piece moments that really heighten the emotional impact of the episode. A literal wildfire is ripping through Arcadia Bay throughout proceedings, which serves as a metaphor to the brewing storm that unwinds in a shocking reveal at its end.
After the fallout from your actions in part one has played out, it feels a little like the game is treading water waiting for Rachel and Chloe to come back together in the second act of the episode. That isn’t necessarily a bad thing, as it provides several of the famous Life Is Strange “bench” moments. Simple moments where the player is offered the choice to sit and reflect on recent events. This is entirely optional and can last as long or as short a time as one wishes, ended by a simple button press to stand up. But they offer the best window into the mind of Chloe, into her motivation and her current mental state. It is in these moments that the game has space to breathe, and feels more than just an on-rails interactive drama.
This section of the episode also provides players with what is possibly the first traditional adventure game puzzle that has featured in the entire franchise. In the iconic junkyard, which has appeared in both titles, Chloe is trying to piece together a new ride to carry Rachel Amber and herself off into the sunset. To do this, you actually have to collect the right items and put them together, like an old-fashioned point and click game. This is a welcome change of pace and as simple as it may sound, it does offer more opportunity to bond with Chloe. These moments are important because Chloe is a caustic and can be a difficult character to relate to, so these more thoughtful and sedate moments help round out her character greatly.
I stress how important these moments are, because it sometimes feels like the smaller, background characters are actually more likeable than our two heroes. In a somewhat under-cooked side story, Chloe must choose whether or not to help a schoolmate whose family are going through tough times. Within this, you get the chance to speak with several interesting and well-rounded characters, whom you actually wish you had the chance to spend more time with. But perhaps it is the well-roundedness of these characters that means they can only be bit-part players. Life Is Strange isn’t and never has been about the perfect adolescent life, but the struggles and pitfalls that teens have to deal with. Difficult relationships, family drama, dangerous situations; these all make Chloe a difficult person to bear at times, but ultimately a fascinating one.
The player gets several new opportunities to make use of the new Backtalk gameplay feature that was introduced in episode one, but most of the decisions you make in those situations have little effect on the overall progression of the story. True, minor details will change, but after playing through a few of the different dialogue choices, the end results were all pretty similar, with only very shallow changes. Sadly that is perhaps the main negative point that I have felt with Before The Storm so far; magnified somewhat by the fact that anyone who has played the first series knows exactly where the protagonists here are going to end up. This adds a kind of inexorable fate to all of your choices, and actually takes away from their impact. I repeatedly found myself thinking that no matter what I choose this isn’t going to change their fate.
But even if that all feels a bit too pre-determined, then you get blown away by a moment like the school play scene. A Blackwell production of Shakespere’s The Tempest is used to draw Chloe and Rachel closer together, with their growing bond being interwoven into the lines if the play itself. The touching moment shows just how quickly the two girls have come to emotionally rely on one another. This is quickly followed by another poignant scene, where the pair, high on the adrenaline of a successful performance, fully resolve to escape their problems in Arcadia Bay and start life anew, together. As tender and affecting as the scene may be in a teen angsty kind of way, you know that this can’t all end well, and everything is inevitably brought to a screeching halt in the final scene.
This of course leaves a dramatic cliff-hanger for the concluding episode, and I find it hard to imagine how the whole story is going to be wrapped up in just one more part. Knowing where things are headed for both of the two main characters, it feel like there is still a lot of story left to be told and very little time to do so. Episode two sadly has moments where things drag a little, and perhaps that ends up feeling like wasted time. There is the fear that the conclusion can only be disappointing with so little time to really flesh it out, and I for one am left rueing the fact that Before The Storm isn’t going to be a full-length series like the first Life Is Strange was. But after the other surprisingly well-assured steps that Deck Nine have taken in dealing with the story and the key relationships within so far, I do have hope and remain excited to see where things go next.