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'Life Is Strange' prequel a roller coaster

  • BeforeTheStorm

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    Square-Enix

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    Square-Enix

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    Square-Enix

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    Square-Enix

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    Square-Enix

I didn’t want a prequel to Life Is Strange; at least not one by a different writing team and a new lead voice actress. Yet, here we are: a game that should never have existed, providing spectacular highs and mind-numbing lows, all at once.

There’s a reason Life Is Strange was The Blade’s 2015 game of the year. The story combined fantasy, angst-riddled drama, and believable teenage characters in a way rarely seen in the gaming sphere. Life Is Strange moved me to tears and showed me a world and town like my own, mirroring my own experiences in many ways.

To be here, feeling a quiet disappointment over the prequel to one of my top five favorite games of all time, is difficult, but at the same time not all that surprising. A new team, new voice, and prequel setting all seemed like the makings of a quick cash-in. Yet, there was something fresh and engaging about the first two episodes in the three-episode prequel that explores the backstory of Chloe Price and her burgeoning yet vague relationship with Rachel Amber, Arcadia Bay’s resident cool girl.

Life Is Strange: Before The Storm

Grade: ★ ★ ★

System: PlayStation 4, XBox One, PC

No. Players: 1

Published by: Square-Enix

Developed by: Deck Nine Studios

Genre: Adventure

ESRB Rating: Mature

Grades: Outstanding; ★ ★ ★ ★ ★ Very Good; ★ ★ ★ ★ Good;★ ★ ★ Fair;★ ★ Poor; ★

It was important for the story of these two lost youths to tie together what we know about their ultimate fates in Life Is Strange but still end on a note of satisfaction. Regrettably, instead of providing closure, all Before the Storm manages to do is a disservice to many characters and relationships while focusing on secondary story beats.

My journey with this game went through a roller coaster of emotions, from steeling myself for a Dumpster fire of disappointment to seeing glimpses of brilliance. In the end, that roller coaster veered off the tracks and exploded in mid-air thanks to an ending that attempts to do too much and not enough, all at once.

The Rachel-Chloe relationship is one of mystery and vague supposition in Life Is Strange. Main character Max Caulfield is never given the whole picture about how intense or close Rachel and Chloe were, leaving much of their time together up to interpretation. Before the Storm works best as a portrayal of an awkward teenage female relationship that is too impulsive and destructive to ever work.

The third episode drops the ball by taking Rachel off the table halfway through, leaving Chloe to wander the game world and have conversations with everyone except Rachel. More to the point, Before the Storm paints the relationship between the two in a healthy, sympathetic light, forgetting that Life Is Strange establishes that it was anything but.

This left me feeling like the developer’s goal was to create moments of doe-eyed infatuation and not to take a magnifying glass to a doomed relationship between two people racing toward early, shallow graves.

After much discussion and debate over Before the Storm with my wife, I came to the conclusion that the plot feels more like fan service than an actual character arc. Before the Storm is more interested in coming off like fan fiction where two characters are pushed together in perfect synchronicity than providing context into where things go so wrong between Chloe and Rachel.

The problem is that developer Deck Nine approached the project as fans and not as storytellers. In a Reddit Q&A in August of 2017, lead writer Zak Garris even stated that they approached the project due to their love of the original game. The problem at hand is that the story feels like the writers were more interested in creating the story and relationships in their ideal mind than exploring the gray areas of a Chloe-Rachel relationship that is anything but healthy.

As it stands, Before the Storm has more questions than answers, with an ending that falls flat and leaves the player wondering if all the character's poor choices were due to incompetence. Where episodes one and two do a great job of fleshing out the world and characters who were in the background of the original game, the third episode left me with a strong feeling that Deck Nine didn’t understand the settings or personalities at work.

While it may sound like I hate this game, I still consider the experience to be positive and one that I highly recommend for die-hard Life Is Strange fans. Chloe’s new voice actress Rhianna DeVries handles the role with strength and authenticity, and Rachel Amber is a complicated, destructive character who grabs your attention each time she’s on screen.

The soundtrack is also mesmerizing and fitting to the setting of a small and sleepy town in the northwest, creating the perfect mood for teen melodrama.

You can never really go home again, and maybe that was the case all along with any return trips to Arcadia Bay and Life Is Strange. The original game had such an emotional impact on me at the time that, despite my urges to go back with fresh eyes one more time, it was never possible to feel the way Life Is Strange made me feel ever again.

The end result of Before The Storm leaves this dedicated fan feeling wistfully satisfied. Perhaps this wasn’t the story I wanted, but a few imperfect yet emotional hours at Blackwell Academy with Chloe Price is better than none at all.

Contact William Harrison at: DoubleUHarrison@gmail.com or on Twitter @DoubleUHarrison.

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