Review: Life is Strange: Before the Storm

The first three episodes of Life is Strange: Before the Storm built a bond between Chloe Price and Rachel Amber that managed to not only tie into the original Life is Strange, but tell its own fully-realized story. Farewell focuses on Chloe and Max — just like the first game, but at a different time. Instead of their time as young adults, we see Chloe and Max right before Max’s move to Seattle and the death of Chloe’s father. It displays the most chemistry the two have had yet and shows their bond from the age of eight until the move. Their pirate phase that became a running joke throughout the series has its origins in this episode, while the sisterhood that grew between them through their lives is built brick by brick.  Like the entire series up to this point, it’s a narrative first with a game built around it and the stories told in it are as compelling as ever — even with fewer stories being told than before.

Farewell happens over the span of three days, with Max being playable and preparing for her move without wanting to tell Chloe. She wants to just focus on having fun and does so by reliving her pirate treasure burying days with Chloe. They find their haul and Chloe gives Max her dad’s camera since she always wanted it. They find that their treasure has been tampered with a bit — by Chloe’s father William. He was a driving force throughout the entire series, as visions of him flood Chloe’s mind in Before the Storm and his death led to a sea change in her life. William founds their buried treasure and instead of getting mad about them destroying his backyard, protects their time capsule with a weather-insulated container, leaves a pirate-themed photo of himself with them, and leaves a voice message about how much he loves the bond they have and them. In a series full of touching events, it’s one of the most emotionally-draining parts of the game because you know how his story ends.

One of the greatest lessons the series imparts on its players that life isn’t just a mater of having things — but having people in your life that value you. Chloe and Max’s bond began when they were eight and continued — even with a long absence — until their college-age years. In that time, life took them on separate paths that wound up hurting their bond, but not breaking it. Before the Storm as a whole focuses on how Chloe’s life falls apart without Max and shows that Max was her true rock in life. While Chloe had other people she could rely on, they steered her in harmful or self-serving directions. The only time Chloe has true calm in her life is when she’s with Max, which makes her bitterness throughout that much more understandable because it’s clear she knows a large hole is in her life and she’s relying on the wrong people to help fill it.

Before the Storm builds up the bond Chloe and Rachel Amber have from pretty much day one. They grow together and Chloe winds up allowing Rachel to come out of her shell in good and bad ways. Chloe’s path in life without Max is one that lacks focus, but never stops being exciting. She and Rachel have crazy adventures in the first episode, but pay a large price for them in the second. Before the Storm builds up Rachel up as a complex character throughout, with episode one showing that one reason she’s so rebellious thanks to Chloe is that she needs an outlet for her frustrations with her parents — and she has enough clout to get away with anything she wants to with them and at school.

The second episode focuses on consequences – with Chloe paying an especially high one when it comes to school, which ties into many of that episode’s events. A long-standing debt leads to injuries and a crisis of conscience for Chloe in one of the franchise’s biggest moments as she has to make a high-stakes decision in short order and hope bodily harm is kept to a minimum. Episode two also features an incredibly heartwarming play performance that allows Chloe to overcome stage fright and a bit of angst thanks to the power Rachel gives her just by letting her know she’s there for her. It’s a testament to how a single person can unlock greatness within someone that was always there — but it was locked away until someone came along with the key.

Episode two ends with a reveal that Rachel’s family tree is far more broken than she could have imagined — but that branch ties into Chloe’s current life and even her drug dealer. Episode three closes out the canon of Before the Storm and focuses more on Chloe with Rachel being injured by a stabbing. This shift in character focus leads to episode three having the highest amount of overall drama due to lives frequently being on the line — but it acts as a perfect payoff to the first two episodes. Chloe is given major choices with Rachel, including one that can be a tough one in theory — but is much easier if you view the bond between the two as genuine. Throughout the adventure, you can choose to have Chloe and Rachel’s bond grow in a variety of ways.

If you want, they can be allies or far more than that. There are several options in the game where you can turn their friendship into a relationship — and in far more subtle ways than games usually explore. Before the Storm is a bold game, but one that makes the events of Life is Strange and Chloe’s never-ending search for Rachel that much more painful. As a player, going through Before the Storm before Life is Strange makes Chloe’s pain in the main game easier to understand. With that game, Rachel exists only in the past and you’re just told about her — but you never see much about her beyond photos and other mementos. With Before the Storm, you get a deep exploration of her character, her life and the events that led Chloe to where she is when Life is Strange begins — for better or worse.

Farewell is a touching finale for Before the Storm and shows Chloe at her most vulnerable yet — losing her father to an accident and her strongest ally in life. One of the most powerful images in the entire series happens when it concludes and she is rocking in a fetal position on the ground clutching a tape recorder with Max’s final message to her. The message itself can change depending on when you tell her about the move or if you never do and is the one aspect of that chapter that will have players replaying it to see every possible outcome. With a runtime of about an hour, it shows that it isn’t the quantity of time, but the quality of that time that truly matters. It’s a lesson that many learn in life when it’s too late — and something the game imparts on players without hammering the point home.

Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a near-perfect experience from beginning to end. As a compliment to the first game, it builds on the lore and expands on the characters in meaningful ways. As a narrative device, it’s everything you could want in a prequel because you can choose to play everything in chronological order and still have everything make sense in the final story. Starting with Farewell would even work — although it plays better as part of the story when you already know the other parts of it as a few key details are left voiceless, hurting things if you haven’t already played either Before the Storm’s three main episodes or the entire five episode run of Life is Strange.

Closing Comments:

Life is Strange: Before the Storm is a powerful series that blends in touches of the supernatural while telling a grounded narrative. That’s partially what makes it so powerful — everything in Before the Storm is an event that could happen to someone,and that’s one of the aspects that makes the journey through it even more painful than the main Life is Strange. There, the fantastical elements reminded you that you’re in a fictional tale. In Before the Storm, everything is plausible and more scary as a result. Before the Storm is a must-play component of the series and the franchise is something that anyone who enjoys a strong narrative should try out.

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