Summer is now officially over, and as we turn over a new page in the calendar, there are several things to be excited about now that it’s September, the most important of them being the release of Life is Strange: Before the Storm, which came out on Thursday. This was also followed by the release of the whole soundtrack for the game by Daughter on Friday. It was a glorious end to summer, and start of autumn.
Before the Storm takes place three years prior to the events in the first game, Life is Strange (2015), and focuses on Chloe Price. Chloe’s father has died, and her best friend has stopped keeping in contact with her.
When I finally managed to calm down after opening up the game, and actually started playing, the game flew by so fast! I was done with episode one in what seemed like a heartbeat (although the game sure made my heart race).
I am still not over it, and so, to prolong this post-“Before the Storm” dreamy state, here are my first impressions of Episode 1!
What I liked about it:
- The soundtrack: it was one of the first things we got to experience before the actual release of the game; the trailer featured one of Daughter’s songs, and the announcement that they were going to heavily feature on the soundtrack brought me a lot of joy. I am a HUGE fan of Daughter and to know that they are going to work on MY FAVOURITE video game was just a dream come true. How amazing! The songs are beautiful and so emotive; they go really well together with the action of the game. I am also really glad that Life is Strange fans get to fall in love with the band too.
- Animation: now, Life is Strange is not perfect, and animation is where the game lacks (when characters cry it just looks like their skin is slightly damp – where are the tears?) Before the Storm is an improvement on the quality of the animation, especially when it comes to facial expressions. It makes everything seem much more natural and therefore really improves the player’s experience. They still need to work on the tears, but they do look better than in the original game.
- Backtalk challenges: I was really worried, before playing the game, about Chloe’s fiery attitude and the way she does not mince her words. She could get in some very serious trouble in this game, and this time, there was no Max to turn back time and fix it. But Deck Nine have managed to dispel all my worries, by turning her verbal confrontations into challenges. They are very well done – you have to pay attention to the words the other person uses and use them to your advantage. If you successfully talk back to them several times, you win. The challenges are surprisingly enjoyable, even for someone like me, who never has the courage to talk back to people. They also bring out Chloe’s talent with words.
- The Dungeons & Dragons game: all nerds rejoice! How amazing is this completely unexpected surprise from Deck Nine, that you can actually get involved in a Dungeons and Dragons campaign? Even those who don’t play D&D, or have no idea what that is (a fantasy tabletop roleplaying game) should give it a try. It’s immensely fun, and I loved seeing Chloe go from wanting to dismiss it as a nerd thing to getting really into it and earning the respect of the other players.
- Chloe’s sexuality: Even though, in the original Life is Strange game, the Dontnod team tiptoed around the actual sexuality of the characters, merely giving hints, Deck Nine seem to have heard the fans and have taken a different approach, by simply letting Chloe be herself, not hindering her thoughts and feelings towards those around her, regardless of their nature – simply letting them be, without additional comment or the need to draw attention to them. This is a very authentic approach towards Chloe, which characterises the whole episode. The result is an amazingly honest, raw side of Chloe that we have only been able to glimpse in Life is Strange.
- Chloe and Rachel: just as with Life is Strange, where, despite the mystery of the storm and Max’s rewinding powers of time, the core of the game inevitably becomes the relationship between herself and her long-time best friend, Chloe, the same happens in this game. In episode 1 we get a first glimpse of the “friendship…but more” between Chloe and Rachel. Still trying to come to terms with her father’s death, as well as having to deal with an increasingly absent best friend, it is not hard to see why the charming Rachel Amber ended up having such an impact on Chloe, and becoming her “angel”. We also get to see a side of Chloe we have never seen before, the “useless lesbian”, as it has been deemed online – her awkwardness when interacting with Rachel is very relatable.
- Nathan Prescott: Nathan greatly annoyed me in Life is Strange. He was arrogant and entitled, a bully and a creep who ended up being guilty of Rachel’s death. He was a very flat character – other than being the student antagonist of the game, there was not much to him. Before the Storm does a great job of turning him to a more rounded, complex character, showing us the origin of his asshole behaviour. While it could be considered clichéic that he becomes a bully because he was bullied, alongside the implication that his father pressured him into the football squad (for which he was mostly bullied) to uphold the family name, it does all make sense. It does not undo his wrongs, but it does make him three-dimensional as a character.
- Secondary characters: Stephanie, Samantha and Mikey are amazing side characters, and I am glad that Deck Nine has not focused solely on the characters we all knew from Life is Strange, but has also added new dynamic, relatable secondary characters. They play an important part in the choices you make throughout the game, depending on the impression they leave on you.
- Max Caufield: Being the main character in Life is Strange, it was pretty easy (and expected, even) to side with her, especially when it came to her time away from Chloe – there were times when Chloe ‘s anger at Max seemed a bit too much, and we never understood the full extent of the things that had happened (or better said, had not happened) during the time the girls had not spoken. But that was because, after all, we only had Max’s side of the story. Now we get to experience those years after Max has left for Portland from Chloe’s point of view. And what a difference this makes! Chloe is trying so hard to hold on to her friendship with Max, and all she gets in return is silence. I am aware that we don’t actually know how it was like for Max in Portland, but is it really hard to reply to a text once in a while to let your best friend know you haven’t forgotten about her? We really get a chance to adjust our ideas about Max in Before the Storm.
- “dickhole”: what a lovely mashup of “dickhead” and “asshole”. Chloe truly has a way with words.
- Chloe’s wardrobe: This is the additional feature no one thought they needed but is in fact pretty enjoyable. Playing dress up with Chloe is really fun – her wardrobe is a blend of “don’t care” and hipster, which, for someone who’s wardrobe is on the other side of the spectrum, is just fascinating.
What I didn’t like about it:
- “This action will have consequences”: The message first appears when you decide to steal the $200 from the shitty dude who overcharged for Firewall t-shirts. It keeps coming up throughout the episode, which is to be expected, since this is in the game description. However, we never really get to experience any of those consequences, at least in this episode. After a while, it’s pretty easy to just see the message as a feeble threat, laugh in its face, and go about doing whatever you feel like it without the pressure of actual consequences. It allows for a more relaxed environment that in Life is Strange, where your actions caught up with you much faster than here, but it also creates a sense of annoyance, since they start seeming unnecessary.
- PC controls: Deck Nine has made several changes when it comes to game controls – instead of the using the arrow keys to move, you now use the WASD keys. And while you still need to left click on object to be able to select it, you now need to also press the WASD keys to interact with it, which is much more complicated at first glance than the simple “drag the mouse” that Life is Strange used. However, the use of the WASD keys is overall better, it’s much easier to navigate the game once you get used to it. This is initial dislike is mostly a personal thing, as I was simply used to the controls for Life is Strange. However, I was really not a fan of the fact that you cannot use the touchpad on a laptop in the game, you must have a mouse plugged in – a touchpad was fine in Life is Strange, would it have been so hard to do it here, too? Especially since you need the mouse much less.
- Texting: I have never minded the inability to send text messages in the Life is Strange games….until now. I understand that Chloe is supposed to be a rebel and doesn’t want her mum to cramp up her style, but the fact that you cannot answer her text messages kind of annoys me. All Joyce wants is to know Chloe is safe, would it have hurt the game devs to have Chloe send an “I’m ok” message to her mum?
I really look forward to the release of the second episode!